ASHE COUNTY-Once thought to be limited to the prairies or grasslands of the Midwest, coyotes are now present in all 100 North Carolina counties and Ashe County Animal Control officials are hearing their calls, as well as those of disturbed livestock and pet owners, more and more.
Prior to 1994, there were no reported incidents or sightings of coyotes in the High Country, according to a North Carolina Wildlife Commission distribution map.
By 1998, coyotes were believed to be present in both Ashe and Watauga Counties.
Prior to the 1800s, coyotes were restricted to the Midwest, but as Europeans arrived and settled across North America, subsequent landscape changes and elimination of wolves allowed the coyote to expand its range toward the eastern United States, said the NCWC.
The first reported sighting of a coyote in N.C. was in Gaston County in 1938.
The first confirmed coyotes that were collected came from Johnston County (1955) and Wake County (1970), according to the commission.
Until the late 1980s, wildlife officials believed that coyotes seen in the state were likely due to illegal importation and release. By 1990, coyotes began to appear in western North Carolina as a result of natural range expansion from Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina.
Coyotes in North Carolina are smaller than wolves, have pointed and erect ears, and long slender snouts. The tail is long, bushy and black-tipped and is usually carried pointing down. Their color is typically dark gray, but can range from blonde to black. Adults are about the size of a medium-sized dog and may weigh between 20 and 45 pounds, according to the NCWC website.
NCWC officials said coyotes readily adapt to suburban and urban environments once thought unsuitable and they exhibit great plasticity in their behavior and diet. The coyote is arguably the hardiest and most adaptable species on this continent, according to the commission.
They are naturally wary of people and will avoid areas in which threats are perceived. They will also become acclimated to humans in the absence of threats, such as hunting and trapping, and in areas where typically unnatural food, such as pet food, garbage and unsupervised small pets, are readily available, according to a report by the commission.
Although the date of the first reported sighting of a coyote in Ashe County is unavailable, animal control said they have received reports of the fox-like carnivores across all portions of the county.
“We are receiving a lot of calls on coyotes,” said Ashe Animal Control Director Joe Testerman. “We have people claiming that coyotes came in and took their cats or they are chasing and killing livestock.”
None of these reports, however, can be substantiated.
Their presence doesn’t appear to be limited to rural farmland or the more remote reaches of the county.
In fact, inadvertent action by humans is likely drawing the coyotes closer to population center.
Testerman recalls a recent incident when a woman reported seeing a coyote in a West Jefferson trailer park.
“A lot of times, wildlife comes to us because we draw it in unintentionally,” said Testerman. “We are inadvertently feeding them all over the county.”
Residents, however, can take simple steps to avoid crossing paths with the animal.
“We recommend folks do not leave food out over time for their dogs or cats,” said Testerman. “They should also clean out their garbage and take little steps like that.”
And James Wyatt, who lives on a farm near Little Helton just north of the North Carolina-Virginia state line, said he began trapping coyotes after he said at least one of his neighbor’s sheep was attacked and eaten.
Within the past year, he said he’s been able to snare seven – all male – coyotes and he’s got the pictures to prove it. Each weighed roughly 30 pounds, Wyatt said.
Wyatt speaks highly of the animals’ intelligence and ability to evade detection.
“They roam a large area and even if you don’t see one does not mean they are not there or (aren’t) moving through,” Wyatt said.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.