CNN / Reuters / November 5, 2004
A coyote looks similar to a domestic dog, but has adapted to the wild
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Coyotes, the rangy animals associated with the American West, have been spotted in the U.S. capital for the first time, sparking gossip in precincts where talk usually turns on politics.
"On our way home from a party tonight, my son spotted a coyote trotting amongst the trees," one writer said in an e-mail group for one of Washington's tonier sections.
"One ran across Military [Road in western Washington]. No question, a healthy smallish coyote!" another wrote on October 21, referring to a location about 5 miles (8 km) from the White House.
Residents of the Washington area have reported seeing coyotes for months and The Washington Post warned last summer that household pets could fall prey to the omnivorous creatures.
But coyotes' presence inside the city limits was confirmed only in September by a naturalist on duty in the woods of Rock Creek Park.
"I suspect we've had coyotes close by for some time. We've just discovered them recently," Michael Bean, chairman of the wildlife program at the Environmental Defense group, said on Friday.
Coyotes originally roamed in what is now the northwestern corner of the United States, but have expanded their range over the last 200 years to include all of North America except the extreme northeast portions of Canada.
With its thick fur, pointed snout and bushy tail, the coyote appears similar to a domestic dog like a collie, but its adaptability has enabled it to survive where a household pet might not.
A typical coyote diet includes small mammals, insects, reptiles, fruit and carrion, but in areas like Washington where it shares its habitat with humans, kitchen garbage and pet food are likely menu additions.
It is not unusual to find coyotes in a city setting, naturalists say, and they have been spotted in cities in Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and Illinois, including in Chicago.
The real-life coyote should not be confused with the hapless cartoon Wile E. Coyote, eternal loser in his desert battle of wits with the Roadrunner, Bean said.
"Unlike the cartoon character, they're not dumb. They're quite capable of surviving in some inhospitable surroundings," he said. "If they were as dumb as the cartoon character, they would never have made it this far.