January 6, 2016
When a young male coyote on Madison’s west side began acting oddly last month, the Urban Canid Project took to Facebook.
“We have had several reports of a collared coyote displaying some unusual behavior in the last few weeks,” the University of Wisconsin–Madison research team posted on its social media page. “His unusual behavior includes a marked increase in daytime activity, and a reduced fear of cars/human activity.”
The response was rapid. In a matter of days, the post — which included tips for helping re-instill the coyote’s fear — reached 8,000 people, say project leader David Drake and lead graduate student Marcus Mueller, and it made its way onto several area neighborhood Facebook pages.
“It exemplifies one of the things we’re trying to do with this project,” says Drake, professor of forest and wildlife ecology and a faculty affiliate of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
Madison with eyes and
find the foxes and coyotes.
This is the future of wildlife
management in the city.”
Since 2014, the Urban Canid Project has heavily emphasized outreach and public engagement in the study of Madison’s foxes and coyotes. Its goal is to understand more about these city-dwelling relatives of dogs and help us all peacefully coexist. So far, its efforts have met success. In addition to an active Facebook page, the project is also on Twitter and regularly welcomes people to join them when they trap animals to tag and radio collar them for study.
Research from across the country shows that public engagement and outreach can enhance wildlife management efforts and effectiveness, improve attitudes toward urban canids and reduce conflict between humans and wildlife.
Last year, the team created a website for citizens to report their fox and coyote sightings and interactions. To date, nearly 200 people have registered with the site and reported 250 fox and coyote observations in and around Madison. The researchers are now also looking at ways to better understand and track the use of social media as it pertains to their work.
“We want to blanket Madison with eyes and find the foxes and coyotes,” says Mueller. “This is the future of wildlife management in the city.”
Currently, the research team uses radio telemetry to follow five area foxes and eight coyotes. By positioning themselves near the animals, team members can pick up a radio signal emitted from the collars the animals are fitted with during trapping. They can study where the animals roam and get an idea about the interactions they may be having with people and other animals.
Mueller hopes the website may ultimately replace telemetry, which is resource-intensive. They are limited by the number of collars they can obtain, time, and the number of people available to go out into the field with a radio signal detector.