November 13, 2013
Turf Tactics Of Feral Cats And Urban Coyotes
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A new Chicago-based study has found feral cats and urban coyotes typically have separate ranges, with the cats sticking closer to residential areas and the coyotes preferring urban parks and green spaces.
The study’s lead author Stan Gehrt, an associate professor of environment and natural resources at The Ohio State University, said feral cats probably avoid urban green spaces because of the urban coyote population.
“(The avoidance) reduces the cats’ vulnerability to coyotes, but at the same time, it means the coyotes are essentially protecting these natural areas from cat predation,” he said.
In the study, which was published in the journal PLOS One, the scientists used data from the long-term Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project, which Gehrt has been conducting since 2000.
The team also caught free-roaming cats in or near Chicago’s parks and nature preserves. Each captured feral or stray cat’s age, weight, fur coloration, body condition and other traits were recorded. The researchers also collected blood samples and fit the cats with radio tracking collars before releasing them at or near their capture location.
The research team found most of the cats in the study were fairly healthy, and the blood tests showed the felines had little exposure to so-called 'feline AIDS' and to feline leukemia virus. The study cats also lived about as long as the area’s coyotes, and even longer than local foxes and skunks.
“The condition of the cats was generally much better than what we expected,” he said. “Their overall health and ability to survive in the landscape is greater than what people think.”
The scientists noted the cats which had been spayed or neutered tended to be in better health than those cats which were not.
“There’s definitely a need to sterilize (free-roaming cats) to control their overall population, and in some cases it may help them maintain better body condition,” Gehrt said. “That’s another finding of this study.”
The scientists also discovered most of the cats avoided the urban coyotes’ “core activity areas” of Chicago’s parks and nature preserves. Instead, the cats were active mostly near homes and shops.
“Coyotes essentially exclude cats from natural habitat fragments in cities either directly through predation or indirectly through the threat of predation,” said Gehrt. “The cats avoid these areas.”
Meanwhile, the coyotes provide a service in urban natural areas by limiting the impact of feral cats, he said. Occasionally, urban coyotes will travel into more developed parts of the city, but those places aren’t considered part of the coyotes’ core activity area, according to the study.
“The way coyotes use developed areas is completely different from how cats use them,” Gehrt said. “They’re moving through those neighborhoods or commercial areas very quickly, using every bit of cover they can find, to get from one hunting area to another, whereas the cats are sticking as close to the buildings as they can.
“What the coyotes are doing is totally amazing,” he added. “They have to live in the urban matrix while avoiding people, which is pretty darn hard to do.” Gehrt said his study provides a better image of both animals’ behavior in urban areas and could be used to effectively manage them.