Wolves, Coyotes, and the Science of Migration

Be forewarned, AD failed a number of science classes….a number of times, so don’t expect anything hard-hitting or even that interesting in what I’m about to go musing on.

The other night, a pack of coyotes started their hair-raising chorus somewhere near the house. This isn’t uncommon. Having lived in a rural area for as long as I have, I’ve grown used to the sounds, and even welcome them as being fascinating. But laying there listening to them got me to thinking about coyotes, wolves, and a radio program I heard a while back on the subject of these animals in New York State. The general consensus from experts is that there are no wolves in NY. They were hunted to extinction along the east coast, and all that managed to survive and thrive in the area are the coyotes.

Now, the expert I heard on the radio said something that intrigued me, and my 6 minute google search this afternoon confirmed what he said.

One of the biggest issues that people have with the Eastern Coyote and Gray Wolves is that a large Eastern Coyote looks almost identical to a Gray Wolf. Many believe that large coyotes are actually Gray Wolves. DNA analysis has now shown that hybridization has occurred between coyotes and gray wolves. It is believed that the hybridization occurred in southern Canada where both coyotes and wolves coexist. Today coyotes populations are estimated between 20,000 and 30,000. Population levels fluctuate year-to-year depending upon the availability of prey and ravages of disease. Coyotes exist everywhere in New York except for Long Island. Right now it is believed that Gray Wolves do not exist in New York. But, it is believe it is just a matter of time before they migrate into New York from Canada. If they do appear in New York, they will be first sighted in the Adirondacks. Coyotes travel with their tails down, where Gray Wolves travel with their tails up.

The radio man said something similar, that “There are no wolves in NY, but we are finding wolf-coyote hybrids.” – My question was “well, where the hell did the wolves come from to mate with the coyotes?” – which was answered by the quotation (taken from catskillmountaineer.com) – Southern Canada where wolves and coyotes coexist.

Charming, but then, wouldn’t the NEXT question be.. “If the hybrids can migrate to NY…why the hell can’t the wolves themselves?” My best guess is it’s a customs issue, but I can’t confirm that, and nobody else seems to want to ask that question, much less answer it.

I’m not saying that I’ve seen any wolves. Or heard any. Or that I know anyone who has seen one. Or heard one. But it seems reckless on the part of environmental agencies to vehemently deny that there are wolves in the area when their offspring are bumming around the mountains of the state. There is no doubt in my mind that a large number of wolf sightings that HAVE been reported are simply mistaken identities. There are some massive coyotes out there which could easily be misidentified. Also, there are plenty of cases of people from out of the area mistaking cows and dogs for deer….so there’s that, but at the same time, saying ‘they ain’t here’ is a lot like mixing a White Russian, then claiming there isn’t any milk.

Perhaps I’ve read far too much into something that doesn’t matter. I’m not really even sure what I’m driving at with this post. This is just the sort of thing I think about while laying awake in the middle of the night, being serenaded by the world around me.

Are there wolves in NY? Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that if it is possible for their offspring to find vacation homes in our hills, it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that they could as well.

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