Collar-laying program to collect data on coyote range, DNA in Galveston

GALVESTON – Josh Henderson, Animal Services Supervisor with the Galveston Police Department, picked up the wet 28-pound coyote and carried it inside the Galveston Island Humane Society.

When he wore it a few minutes later, the coyote sported a new accessory: a GPS collar that will track the animal’s movements for 18 months.

The coyote was one of only two to wear the new necklaces in Galveston. But Henderson hopes to acquire enough devices to track at least one animal from each pack, he said.

The collars are meant to provide information that could help coyotes and humans better coexist on the island, he said. But the data and tracking information gathered from the collars is also helping to inform a larger study of rare red wolf DNA found in Gulf Coast coyotes.

Henderson and Animal Services Officer Kristen Thompson caught the coyote in a Colony Park backyard after the owners called Animal Control. Officers chased the coyote around the yard until it jumped into a pool and they could capture it, Henderson said.

“What he’s getting right now is being taken away by aliens,” Henderson said as he took blood and hair samples from the captured female coyote. “It’s an intense form of hazing. When he’s finished his charming little field trip, he won’t want anything to do with the yard where he was abducted by aliens.

Living with Coyotes

The collars will not interfere with the coyotes in any way, he said.

What they do is ping a location every four hours and this data will help Galvestonians better understand the resident coyote packs scattered across the island, Henderson said.

“It will definitely influence our coyote management plan as we move forward,” he said. “It’s like everything else: the more information you have, the better the decisions you can make. “

Galveston coyotes have been a source of fascination and concern for residents for years. Although animals are known to attack cats or small dogs, coyotes generally don’t bother humans, Henderson said.

Every now and then, social media posts and community discussions of coyote sightings increase, sometimes with claims of growing populations. Henderson, however, maintains that the island’s coyote population is fairly stable.

Coyotes change territory like humans change the environment, Thompson said.

As code enforcement attacks properties with tall grass, coyotes leave freshly mown areas where they can no longer hide, she said.

“More construction is underway,” said Thompson. “It also destroys their habitat. People think they are moving into the city, but we are moving into their territory.

Vegetation can also influence where coyotes roam, Henderson said.

“All of this landscaping provides some fantastic places to hide,” said Henderson. “Some of them are rich in rodents. Pampas grass, bananas are known for things like rats.

Coyote race

The Colony Park Coyote Collar is the second of two Galvestons acquired with grants. The necklaces typically cost around $ 1,800 and collect data for 18 months, Henderson said.

The first collar is around the neck of a male coyote that wanders around Jamaica Beach. Henderson captured him and put a collar on him in September after residents called him about the coyote hiding under a car.

Data shows that the coyote spends very little time in the Jamaica Beach Subdivision and moves from 13 Mile Road to Indian Beach, a distance of about 4 miles.

“If you take a 4 mile stretch of Colony Park, where Colony Park is in that territory,” Henderson said. “I will be able to respond soon. I hope as we go down the island I can connect these dots. We will actually be able to find out where they are all running.

Red wolf data

The data is also part of a study partnership with programs at Princeton University and Michigan University of Technology. The necklaces are funded by grants from universities and other conservation groups as part of research into endangered red wolves.

In 2018, researchers discovered red wolf genes in Galveston coyotes, said Bridgette vonHoldt, associate professor at Princeton and co-director of the Gulf Coast Canine Project.

“With the coyotes that we trap and tie up, our goal is first to quantify the ancestry of the red wolf that we find in each animal and simultaneously collect movement and diet data,” said vonHoldt . “Then we can analyze to ask questions if individual differences in movement or diet may be associated with red wolf ancestry levels.”

The ultimate goal is to find out if the Galveston coyotes could help the red wolves survive as a species, she said.

“We are thinking about ways in which the captive breeding program could take advantage of the genetics of the red wolf,” said vonHoldt.

Henderson ultimately wants a collar on a coyote in every pack in Galveston. He applied for a grant of $ 15,000, which would mean 10 more necklaces for Galveston.

That might be enough to cover the island’s many packs, Henderson said. He won’t know until he collects more data, however.

The collared coyote was released in a field about half a mile from where it was captured. After some encouragement, she rushed into the bushes.

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