ALBANY: Roland Kays, PhD., Curator of Mammals of
the New York State Museum, spoke at the May Save the Pine Bush
vegetarian/vegan lasagna dinner at the First Presbyterian Church
about coyotes and fishers. He began with a photo of the snout
from one of the last wolves captured in the northeast. Dr. Kays
remarked on the incredible snarl still visible on the snout and
how he was the “Last
wolf left in the northeast of the United States, and he still
had an attitude about it and did not go down without a fight.” Wolves
were driven out of the northeast United States by the late
New York State started with a clean slate; because it was covered
with a mile of ice and there were no animals until 10,000 years
ago. Approximately 8,000 years ago, NY had a whole suite of crazy
big animals: mammoths, mastodons, camels, bison, caribou, and
giant ground sloths. Wolf-like creatures, such as coyotes, dire
wolves, grey wolves and maybe red wolves lived here too. Coyotes
and dire wolves evolved here over hundreds of thousands of years,
but the grey wolf came with the humans from Asia over the Bering
When humans came, there was a massive extinction of many animals.
Dr. Kays hypothesis is that these animals were killed by over-hunting.
Other people say it was climate change, but, the small mammals
such as woodchucks, black bears, mice, rabbits, did not go extinct;
only the big delicious mammals.
When Europeans first came here, they exterminated
predators to a large extent. Dr. Kays showed a picture of a “circle
hunt”. Hundreds of men would get together over tens of
miles, beat drums, make a lot of noise, and drive all the animals
to the center where they would be shot.
Wolves in Europe and Asia are known to attack humans, unlike
wolves in America which are not. However, Europeans brought this
fear of wolves with them and to protect their livestock, they
killed the wolves so fast that there are almost no specimens
left in museums.
Even though there were hardly any wolves left, some counties
paid big bounties for a wolves. Between the deforestation and
the bounty hunting, the wolves could not survive. Fishers declined
too, because they have such beautiful fur.
That is the bad news. But, the good news is that both beavers
and fishers have recovered in a big way. Two of the main reasons
for the species to recovered are the re-growth of forests and
today people follow rules. A hundred years ago, people would
trap anything anywhere at any time. Now, there are strict regulations
as to when you can trap, where you can go and how many animals
can be taken and trappers respect that.
New York State is in a pretty natural state, in the grand scheme
of things. It was into this environment that the coyotes move
in. Coyotes moved in across the St. Lawrence seaway probably
in the winter, moving into the capital district in the 1950s.
In the United States, we have wolves, coyotes and
dogs, all of the species canis. Dr. Kays calls it “canis soupis” because
all three of these animals can hybridize, which is unusual
Coyotes are moving into urban areas. Coyotes don’t
want to live in urban areas, they want to live in the woods.
But, when the woods fill up with coyotes, they look for someplace
to live. There are lots of deer and rabbits in urban areas,
two of the coyotes favorite foods, As of course Save the Pine
Bush members know, there is a giant dump in the Pine Bush, but,
interestingly enough, only 1% of the coyotes diet was trash.
People often think coyotes each trash, but coyotes only rarely
eat trash. Coyotes will kill cats, but that too is rare.
However, coyotes don’t do very well in the
Pine Bush, the mortality rate is about 80% per year, about equal
parts killed by cars and being shot by hunters, almost all shot
Fishers, a 10-pound relative of the weasel that do not fish,
are one of the only predators fast enough and vicious enough
to kill porcupines.
In the Pine Bush, a fisher was trapped in Guilderland in 1999,
which as far as Dr. Kays can determined, was the first fisher
trapped in the area in 400 years. In 2000, Dr. Kays captured
a fisher with a camera. Now, the fishers are every where in the
Dr. Kays started to study fishers after capturing one on camera.
They radio-collared four males and two females and discovered
that the fishers ranged over quite a wide area from Route 90
to the Mohawk River.
Squirrels in urban areas have had it pretty easy
in the last 100 years or so, but now, it appears that squirrels
have a new predator – the fishers. Fishers can chase squirrels
up trees and into their nests. Fishers are quite partial to sleeping
on top of squirrel nests. Dr. Kays suggests that we keep
an eye on the squirrels and see if they look a little more nervous.
In late February this year, a woman was taking
out her trash in Glenville, and was bitten in the foot by a rabid
fisher. To get the fisher off her foot, she grabbed a fire extinguisher
to beat the fisher. The police came, tracked the fisher through
the woods, and shot it. It was discovered that not only did
the fisher have rabies, but it had one of Dr. Kays’ radio
Dr. Kays had first trapped the fisher, “Roger“ in
2002 and tracked him until the battery ran out a year later.
Roger mostly roamed near Black Creek and Altamont. But, five
years later, Roger has made his way all the way to Glenville,
where he met his fateful end.
Dr. Kays emphasized that it is really important that we learn
how to live with predators. The first high profiled instance
where a coyote attacked a human happened just a month ago in
New Jersey. A toddler was playing in his back yard with his five-year-old
cousin when a coyote attacked the toddler. The cousin was able
to chase off the coyote, the toddler survived, but this incident
made a lot of people scarred.
Its not hard to live with predators, there are just some things
one needs to do.
The first thing is not to feed the animals. We
predators to associate humans with food. We want predators to
be a little bit afraid of people. Dr. Kays went on to the next
thing – don’t feed the predators, don’t feed
them and lastly, do not feed the animals.
By feeding animals, people are putting themselves
at risk, the little kid down the block at risk, and their neighbors’ pets
at risk. People think its cute to have animals come into their
yard, but by feeding the animals, they are putting people at
risk. For the most part, animals do two things – look for
food and avoid death. If people can make there houses places
where food is not found, that discourages the animals from coming
around. Low-level of trapping and hunting coyotes is good because
we don’t want coyotes to lose their fear of humans.
We should enjoy knowing the predators are out there and take
pleasure in the fleeting rare views we may see of them when on
our walks in the woods.