Tracking coyotes in the Madison area

Dr. David Drake shows a cable restraint used to catch coyotes for the UW Urban Canid Project.

Thursday, March 10, 2016 -- 10:00 p.m.

Madison, Wis. -- There's been no shortage of coyote sightings in the Madison area. According to a wildlife tracking website, iNaturalist.org, there have been more than 189 sightings in and around the Madison area since June 2015. Right now, the DNR says these animals are on the move as it's mating season, but the bigger problem is the fact that many of these animals are getting too close for comfort.

In a hope to have these wild predators co-exist peacefully with the people of Southern Wisconsin, a UW-Madison professor is taking a closer look at these animals and their behaviors.

Dr. David Drake starts his mornings when the campus is just lit by a few headlights and street lamps. He's on the look out for coyotes, the animals you hope you don't see in your backyard. He leads the UW-Canid Project. "At least with some of our preliminary data, the coyotes are concentrating a lot of their time and activity to green spaces within the urban landscape," said Dr. Drake.

One place they like to roam is Eagle Heights Community Garden. While there's no way to know just how many coyotes are running throughout the city streets, Dr. Drake points out some coyote tracks in a fresh dusting of snow out at Picnic Point. "It looks like a coyote tracked right through here."

He and his team of students are hoping to get a population estimate and unlock more info about these predators behavior. "We could trap every single coyote out of the City of Madison and we would never be rid of coyotes because others would come in," said Dr. Drake. "So it's better to figure out how we can live with these animals."

To get close to these creatures of mystery, researchers bait the animals with a deer carcass. As he pointed to a half eaten doe, "They started eating her up last night." The goal is to catch them in a cable restraint. "The ideas is the animals moves through here and puts it's head through here," said Dr. Drake as he motions to the trap. There's a stop that allows the washer to go so far, that way the animals doesn't choke itself.

Dr. Drake says all of the trapping is done humanely and their techniques have been approved by the University of Wisconsin Animal Care Use Committee. The project also has permits from the DNR.

Since 2014, they've caught about 30 coyotes and fox. Once they have the animal restrained and sedated, they draw blood, swab, ear tag, and put a radio collar on it. Dr. Drake said they are trying to keep track of diseases and better understand where the animals are roaming.

"Coyotes are adept at living in urbanized areas. Essentially they're a wild dog and there's no reason why they can't exist here," said Dr. Drake. He described them as habitat and food generalists.

Even though there shouldn't be any reason as to why we can't co-exist with them, Dr. Drake offers these tips to keep a safe distance. Remove all food in your backyard. That includes pet food and bird seed. Always keep your dog on a leash. If the dog is smaller than 20 pounds, make sure you're able to scoop them up right away if you spot a coyote.

"The best thing you can do for coyotes is to put a healthy fear of humans into coyotes," said Dr. Drake. "You should yell at them, wave your arms, perhaps through sticks or rocks, not at them, but in their general direction."