Author: John Filippelli
While Long Island possesses an ideal environment and ecosystem to attract red foxes and eastern coyotes, future true colonization may not occur due to several factors.
These are the sentiments of Frank Vincenti, president of the Mineola, NY-based The Wild Dog Foundation, who gave a presentation called “The Fox and Coyote on Long Island” at the Smithtown Public Library in Commack in early September.
“Long Island has the habitat, open space and food sources,” he said “and the environment is devoid of an apex predator.”
During the presentation, which saw a crowd of about 20 people, Vincenti shared the history of New York State’s ecosystem, the history and lineage of foxes and coyotes, and how coyotes in particular are closely related to other canids and wolf-like species, including the Gray Wolf, Ethiopian Wolf, the domesticated dog and three species of jackals.
He noted that while somewhat counter intuitive, the increased presence of coyotes and foxes would actually benefit the Long Island ecosystem, mainly by saving bird populations, such as the piping plover, for instance, from other small mammal predators.
However, when asked what the fox and coyote populations may look like on Long Island in the future, Vincenti was blunt.“Foxes will come and go, unless Sarcoptic mange is eradicated, which is unlikely,” he said. “It only takes one infected fox to infect other foxes. Being hit by cars, poison, attacks by dogs, trapping by the public and the continuing presence of mange plagues the present and future Red fox population.”
Coyotes, on the other hand, face a different obstacle.“Coyotes have usurped the wolf as the most misunderstood,” he said, adding that humans - not natural predators such as the Golden eagle - are the biggest threat facing coyotes.
To highlight this point, Vincenti recounted how in 2016 a family of eight coyotes were captured and euthanized near LaGuardia Airport by federal authorities - the result of the coyotes having been fed by workers in a nearby parking lot.Vincenti himself had attempted to humanely discourage the coyotes from coming near people at the time, he said, to no avail.
Beyond that, for coyotes, it is simply a challenge to get to Long Island, even though coyotes have colonized and been spotted in areas such as the Bronx and Queens with no conflict.
“They do just enough during the day to not be seen and will come out at night for food,” he added.
If coyotes were to migrate to Long Island, they would be found traveling along railroad tracks or in open fields where energy towers are found.
“Coyotes are highly social, and basically ‘little wolves’. They are okay with roads and traffic, and can survive on the edge of natural areas. They’ll eat things like birds, rabbits, ducks, woodchucks and other small mammals,” he said. “Coyotes are very resilient and adapt. So whatever you throw at them, they eventually will learn and come back stronger.”
Likewise he described how foxes are primarily social and family-oriented canids, living on a diet of insects, woodchucks, birds, wild berries, cottontail rabbits and other small mammals.
Isolated fox sightings have been recorded on Eastern Long Island, he added, and the thought that the Red fox on Long Island was an introduced and invasive species is a myth. In fact, recent genetic findings have revealed that every Red fox found in the United States and Canada are North American, with Long Island’s fox population being native as well.
He concluded that foxes, in particular, would have a direct benefit to human health, as the rate of lyme disease would drop.
The reason for this is that a main food source for foxes – rodents – are carriers of ticks which bring lyme, and by lessening the vector species, foxes in effect would decrease the rate of lyme disease on Long Island.
For more information about The Wild Dog Foundation, visit WildDog.org or the Wild Dog Foundation Facebook page.