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More urban coyote spottings doesn’t always mean more coyotes, biologist says

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RICHMOND, Va - Coyote spottings have become more commonplace in the neighborhoods near the James River, wildlife officials confirmed.  Concerns that the keystone predators could threaten small pets and young children even prompted local officials to hold a meeting to discuss the coyote population in Richmond.

Coyotes can adapt to living anywhere, and often times go after small prey, like pet dogs, cats or rabbits, according to wildlife officials. After two coyotes killed a woman's pet dog in July, many people expressed the concerns for their own pet's safety.

Local biologists said coyote populations are stable in almost every county of Virginia, but the animals are not native to the Commonwealth.

Aaron Proctor, a wildlife biologist for Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries, said coyotes first appeared in Virginia during the middle of the 20th century. They entered our ecosystem from the west because of human intervention by our ancestors more than a century ago.

"We did a great job of extirpating and removing wolves and mountain lions from Virginia. What that did is it created a vacuum for a keystone predator, and coyotes fill that vacuum very well,” Proctor said.

Coyotes are “opportunistic foragers” but also prey on smaller mammals, according to Game and Inland Fisheries. Virginia provides ample food sources, so Proctor said coyote populations have expanded dramatically since they first entered Virginia.

However, more sightings does not necessarily mean more coyotes in our area, according to Proctor. He said because they are highly territorial, and one pack’s claim covers many square miles, the population is spread across the state and not concentrated in one area.

Proctor said many times multiple residents spot the same pack over a broad area as they look for food or care for young, which he said can make the number of coyotes in an area seem inflated.

The fact of the matter is urban coyote sighting in Richmond are not going away, so experts said residents need to learn how to live with their wild neighbors.

"It's important for people that live in urban areas to know we are going to have coyotes,” Proctor said.

Wednesday's meeting took place at the Patrick Henry School of Science on Semmes Avenue from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.