A Coyote Study Is Underway In Bath County
Warm Springs, VA – A study on coyotes in the area is underway and researchers are hoping to find out if coyotes are contributing to the apparent decline in the deer population. They are also wanting to find out approximately how many coyotes there are, where they are concentrated and what they are eating. Marcella Kelly is working on the study. She’s an Associate Professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech.
“For now, it’s a pretty large scale study and I think all the results so far have been very interesting and of course, we don’t really know anything about coyotes in this area in terms of that,” says Kelly. “There hasn’t really been a study in the Appalachian range on this kind of mountain coyote, so everything we turn up is kind of new information, so that’s very exciting.”
This study is being done in Bath and Rockingham counties. Field work started about a year ago. In order to analyze an animal’s diet, scat samples are being collected. Using DNA, the samples can be analyzed all the way down to recognize individual animals. Using this data, Kelly and her team hope to come up with a population estimate for coyotes in the area. Along with analyzing the diet, Kelly hopes to find out if the coyotes’ diet changes seasonally.
“We have actually been surprised at how many bobcat samples that we have collected that were either scored as high likelihood of being a coyote or some type of carnivore,” says Kelly. “And so the majority of our samples that came back from the DNA analysis were bobcats, and then a much smaller number were coyotes and foxes and the other animals, domestic dogs and things like that.”
Researchers are also wanting to determine what the coyote’s ranges are. Coyotes are being trapped and fitted with satellite GPS collars, so their movements can be monitored. Six coyotes were collared last year, but only one is still alive. The other five were killed by hunters. Work is continuing to get more collars on more coyotes.
“We have been amazed that they do range pretty far and wide and I think one of the coyotes has even moved over into West Virginia now,” says Kelly. “And may or may not come back and we’ll find out about that, I guess, in the near future. And I guess also one thing that is interesting about that particular area is the way that the landscape is, with Appalachian chain going in these long linear ridges. We end up with coyotes that are kind of ranging very linear home ranges in certain areas, not all of them, but kind of like moving along those ridge tops potentially or up through the valleys. So, kind of long skinny home ranges based on the topography that we have out there.”
This summer researchers hope to be able to develop a way to trap hair samples, which can also be analyzed for DNA. This will also help to determine the population estimate of coyotes in the area.