But some people will have to see bears in their backyard, especially Janice Husebo, who considers them part of her family. For twenty-two years, she has lured hungry bears to the front porch of her home northeast of Asheville. “Friends call me the ‘bear whisperer woman,'” she says as we squeeze outside her door and see a bear and her twins strolling quietly around the porch.
Nevertheless, the wildlife authorities warn that feeding bears increases the conflict and the risk of accidents, which lowers the tolerance for the animals – both reasons why the county has signed an ordinance banning the feeding of bears. Jennifer Strules is well aware that for Asheville residents like Janice Husebo, the bear enjoys status as a beloved animal. But she also hopes that her research will help advise on the best way to live with animals – for them and for us. “Wildlife belongs to everyone,” explains the biologist. But what we want is for the bears to stay wild. »
While black bears have recaptured about half of their former range and now live in about 40 states, coyotes – native to the Great Plains – have taken the United States by storm in recent decades. They are now found nationwide, except Hawaii, and in most major cities. And especially in Chicago, the most emblematic metropolis of the urban coyote, which is home to no less than 4,000.
Stan Gehrt, an ecologist with Ohio State University and the Max McGraw Foundation for Wildlife, began studying Chicago coyotes in 2000, shortly after they first appeared in the city. He thought at the time that his study would last a year. More than twenty years later, he still works there. “We are constantly underestimating this animal and its ability to adjust and adapt,” he says. It pushes the boundaries of what we perceive as limitations. »
One spring morning in Schaumburg, a suburb of Chicago, paves the way for three seekers through swampy land behind a residential area. They are looking for the cave and the cubs of coyote 581, a female equipped with a transmitter collar. Suddenly a baby’s howl penetrates the roar of the traffic. Moments later, Lauren Ross, Senior Field Technician, shouts out. She has just found a baby of a few weeks sitting in the grass, his stomach swollen with milk. She gently picks up the young man and examines him, pulling out a tuft of hair for genetic analysis. She inserts a small electronic chip between the shoulder blades. The little one remains calm and quiet during the investigation. His mother will come back after him when the team is gone, Lauren Ross explains.
At the beginning of his research, Stan Gehrt believed that coyotes would settle for parks and green areas. But he was wrong: “Now they are everywhere – in every neighborhood, in every suburban town and in the city center. In fact, the coyotes have managed to establish themselves despite our best efforts to exterminate them. At least 400,000 are killed each year, about 80,000 of them as part of a federal predator control program, mostly in the West. Collisions with vehicles are the leading cause of death for coyotes from Chicago, but they have learned to avoid cars and even understand traffic lights.
In addition to their ability to adapt, the flexibility of their diet is an asset to these animals. Coyotes can eat almost anything, from fruit to schoolgirls. They know how to cope with living almost everywhere. But a question arises: are they genetically capable of living in the city, or do they manage to adapt quickly thanks to their cunning nature? The answer could be a mixture of both – what Christopher Schell, an urban ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, calls “adaptive plasticity.” They would thus utilize their innate ability to adapt to new environments to feel more and more comfortable there over time.