A small family of coyotes once lived peacefully on the outskirts of New York’s LaGuardia Airport. These were animals living in their natural habitat, bothering no one. Why, then, did the powers that be insist that they die?
If you’re surprised to hear that coyotes live in this area of New York State, don’t be. Coyotes have been living and reproducing in the Bronx since the 1990s. They now periodically roam about in other New York boroughs as well. Despite the fact that they’ve been longterm residents, when the public notices them, they telephone authorities in a panic, asking that the coyotes be removed.
It’s no surprise, then, that when a family of coyotes took up residence near LaGuardia Airport and Rikers Island, some people became nervous. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey determined it had to do something about that.
“The coyotes pose a threat to our employees and members of the community, including children who use nearby baseball fields,” the Port Authority told NBC 4 New York in November 2016. “Repeated efforts to force the coyotes to leave the area have not succeeded.”
The airport and Port Authority told the New York Post that the coyotes had “threatened” employees near an airport parking lot. One parking lot attendant said a coyote pup began following him as he walked to his booth. I guess “following” equates to a threat, though I don’t understand why.
This activity prompted the Port Authority to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to step in and deal with the situation.
Not everyone thought those coyotes posed a threat, though. LaGuardia Airport bus driver Rose Ortega saw the coyotes frequently and knew better. She knew they were simply out looking for food — often because people would throw food trash on the ground at the parking lot. Coyotes are smart enough to connect the presence of people with the likelihood of abandoned food.
“When I whistle to them, they come to the fence,” Ortega told the New York Post. “All they want to do is play and eat.” Had the airport done a better job of policing the trash strewn about the lot, perhaps this problem could have been avoided.
This coyote family appeared to be the first mating couple known to have established a den outside the Bronx area. I use the past tense because, well, those coyotes are all dead now. All dead, except for one lucky pup.
The USDA set up cameras and traps to find and eradicate the coyotes. They did that job only too well. They captured and euthanized the parents and five young coyotes in the late fall of 2016. That left three orphaned pups — nicknamed Dumbo, Tony and Floppy — to fend for themselves. The USDA managed to kill two of those pups in mid-January 2016. Only Dumbo survives.
While all this was going on, activists from The Wild Dog Foundation tried hard to shoo the coyotes away from the traps in order to spare their lives. They lobbied the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to relocate the pups to a safer area so they wouldn’t have to be killed. NYSDEC, sadly, rejected the idea of relocation to Outpost No. 4 Wildlife Rehabilitation Services in Delanson, N.Y.
Then something better happened. NYSDEC changed its mind. The surviving pup, Dumbo, will be captured and sent to an unnamed sanctuary in western New York.
“When the remaining coyote ‘Dumbo’ is captured, he will be transported to the sanctuary without burdening the taxpayers of New York,” announced New York State Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright. “Animals do not have a voice, and it is up to us to identify humane ways to deal with coexisting in nature.”
Indeed. The coyote family was just trying to survive as humankind pressed ever more deeply into their shrinking domain. What was the problem, then? Why did they have to die? The short answer is — they didn’t.
“These coyotes never were aggressive to anybody. They never approached anybody,” the Wild Dog Foundation’s Frank Vincenti told the New York Daily News. “This was a debacle. This was horrific.”
We can be grateful Dumbo got some measure of kindness out of New York State. It’s a shame that Dumbo’s entire family had to be exterminated from land they occupied before the airport parking lot ever existed. That’s what humankind does. We need to do a lot less of it.
We share the earth with these animals. We should share. We should not dominate.