Rupert Cornwell: Out of America

As coyotes lead the trail into suburbs and city centres, are we witnessing the return of the predator?

Share

They caught Hal in Central Park on Wednesday, but you have to admit it was one of the more benign manhunts in the violent history of New York. First they knocked him out with a tranquilliser dart. Then he got a medical check, followed by rest and rehab, before being taken for resettlement in a more rural environment.

Hal, though, never featured on the list of America's most wanted. He is a year-old coyote, who had somehow found his way to the calm green eye of the unrelenting urban storm. More important, Hal is an example of what could be called America's "comeback of the predators".

New York isn't the only unlikely place where coyotes have set up camp. Around where I live in north-west Washington, they are thriving. A couple of breeding families established themselves in Rock Creek Park, that strip of wilderness that snakes through the capital's northern residential districts down to the very edge of elegant Georgetown. DC's coyote watchers say that, like self-respecting urbanites anywhere, they've traded up in the property market and moved into the posh diplomatic neighbourhoods. But not before they were accused of killing a couple of cats, sowing panic in the genteel ranks of local pet-owners.

If they have decamped, I will miss them. It's not just that these creatures, which when I was growing up were symbols of the empty American West, have brought a tiny thrill of the wild into our over-domesticated lives. Like foxes in London, you could say, but without the foxes' awful smell. They also have the potential to do some serious good, such as keeping the local racoon population under a semblance of control.

I speak from experience. A while ago, my wife and I were woken up in the night by a crash in the kitchen. I timidly made my way downstairs, fearing burglars, or worse. Two raccoons had got into the house through the cat-flap. After feasting on biscuits, they attacked the bread bin, sending it crashing to the floor.

Racoons, not coyotes, are the US equivalent of urban foxes - quite as clever and resourceful. But, if I may say so, I was up to the challenge. Even in the US, no Englishman is without his cricket bat. Thus armed, I managed to swat the beasts out of the house the same way they came in, and they haven't returned since.

But there's a wider and more cheering moral to the coyote tale than the frisson of excitement when untamed nature briefly approaches one's doorstep. What with global warming, pollution and human encroachment on their habitats, entire species are disappearing by the day. But the animals at the top of the food chain, the ones associated with wilderness, are on the way back.

As recently as 10,000 years ago, North America was a big game reserve to match Africa. Any doubters need merely visit the fossil remains of mammoths, camels, sabre-toothed tigers and wolves preserved in the La Brea tar pits in downtown LA. But by the start of the 20th century they were almost entirely gone. Out on the plains, even the harmless bison had been hunted by man to the verge of extinction.

Little more than 100 years later, the predators are on the way back. In the northern Rockies, grey timber wolves are thriving after being re-introduced a decade ago - so much so that farmers are threatening to start shooting them, once they are taken off the endangered species list.

Cougars used to be confined to the mountains and deserts of the west. But in recent years they've spread across the continent. They've made their way over the plains, and have been spotted in northern Michigan and central Illinois - meaning they've even vaulted the Mississippi.

Up in New Jersey black bears are so plentiful that they had a six-day public hunt in December to cull their numbers. More than 300 bears were killed. There are even some ecologists who advocate "re-wilding" the Great Plains, by letting camels, lions, cheetah and elephants loose there. The scheme would have the double virtue of offering new habitat for threatened species such as the cheetah and Bactrian camel, and restoring an ecological balance that disappeared with the Ice Age. I'll believe that when I see it. But a trend has started, of which the hapless Hal in Central Park is but the latest manifestation. And that's why I want the coyotes back in Rock Creek Park.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions