The Howl of the Coywolf

WILD STYLE: A new hybrid mix of coyote, wolf and common dog has been spotted across New York City from Tribeca to Queens. Photo by Thom Leavy.
WILD STYLE: A new hybrid mix of coyote, wolf and common dog has been spotted across the city from Tribeca to Queens. Photo Credit: Thom Leavy

NEW YORK CITY – They’re heard more than seen, as New Yorkers have begun noting an eerie mixture of yips, howls and barking coming from the city’s parks.

Coyotes and wolves, animals long driven away from the Big Apple and its surrounding suburbs, are finding their way back in the form of a hybrid animal with a little domestic dog mixed in. They’re known as the Eastern Coyote, coydog or coywolf, and they are leaner and stealthier than wolves, yet bigger and bolder than coyotes.

“In high school, we’re taught a species cannot breed with other species—that it’s reproductively isolated from other such entities,” said Javier Monzón, assistant professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., who researches the animal. “We’re learning that might not always be true.”

Eastern Coyotes are not turned off by the sights and sounds of New York City. At least eight have been found throughout the five boroughs in 2015, with an estimated total population of 20. Some are spotted just long enough to be photographed. Others, like the one that led police on a chase through Tribeca, get tranquilized and returned to the city’s bigger parks. Still other coywolves, such as the animal that drew a crowd and news camera crews from the rooftop of a bar in Queens, evade capture and disappear within the cityscape.

Monzón said these hybrids, which are roughly two-thirds coyote, a quarter mixed wolf and one-tenth common dog, are typically 40 percent larger than a pure coyote. A single coywolf is capable of killing deer on its own, while a pack can take down a moose. Statistically, they attack people and dogs less than their smaller coyote relative in the wild.

MIXED BREED:  Professor Javier Monzón studies the genetic mix of the coywolf, which is leaner and stealthier than wolves, yet bigger and bolder than coyotes. Illustration credit: Rory Gartelmann
MIXED BREED: Professor Javier Monzón studies the genetic mix of the coywolf, which is leaner and stealthier than wolves, yet bigger and bolder than coyotes. Illustration Credit: Rory Gartelmann

A native of Queens, Monzón has been studying coywolves since 2008. He remembers when one jumped out at him on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. Typically found throughout the eastern U.S., there has been much debate on their name in different regions. Monzón feels the name is just semantics, and has his own preference:

“The coydolf,” he said.

The coywolf population in New York City is lower than in many other major cities, such as Boston and Philadelphia, but they’ve been spotted navigating all corners of the urban landscape.  They have been known to cross bridges and have been suspected of using subway tunnels. Despite the heavy development and traffic, they find a way to survive.

While they are the city’s top wild dog, Monzón said coywolves are rarely a threat to humans. The only human to be killed by a coywolf, to his knowledge, was a woman hiking alone in Nova Scotia.

“Those are rare events,” he said. “They can kill a moose, and they’re an adept predator, yet their attacks on humans are much less frequent.”

CITY SLICKER: While it may be New York’s top wild dog,  coywolves are rarely a threat to humans.  Illustration by Rory Gartelmann.
CITY SLICKER: While it may be New York’s top wild dog, coywolves are rarely a threat to humans. Illustration Credit: Rory Gartelmann

Monzón is not sure how much the genetic mixing of the common dog plays into the coywolf’s physical and behavioral characteristics, though he hopes to find out. His most recent studies investigate dog genome fragments in the animal.

He’s also trying to understand what differences, if any, exist between urban and rural coyotes—both of the traditional and coywolf variety.

“They’re not just passive like plants or pollen that end up where the wind takes them,” Monzón said, explaining how the animals select their territory.

While the research is still underway, there are indicators that coyotes born in an urban environment are more inclined to stay there, like any other New Yorker whose family has been here for generations.

The New York attitude may, quite literally, be in their blood.

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