The sleepy suburbs of Columbus, Ohio are seeing an increase in nightly visitors. Chasing after mice and squirrels are quick-footed red foxes, hunting for dinner in their new homes.

These foxes are here to stay and coyotes may be to blame. The problem is indicative of the coyote population boom that many state wildlife agencies are reporting. As the numbers of coyotes rise, the animals begin to encroach upon more urbanized areas. In cities like Colorado Springs and San Diego, coyote sightings are becoming increasingly common. While coyotes rarely attack adult humans, these small predators can be a threat to pets and sometimes even children. To competitor species like the red fox though, coyotes can spell disaster.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the coyotes are driving foxes and other animals towards residential areas.

“I believe this is in response to an increase in coyotes,” said Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologist Suzanne Prange. “Foxes are smart, and they have figured out that they and their pups are safer near humans, where coyotes are less dense.”

The statistics tell a darker tale. Twenty years ago, a survey of bowhunters taken by the DNR found that the state’s sportsmen sighted 18 red foxes and three coyotes for every 1,000 hours in the field. Now bowhunters are reporting seven red foxes and 16 coyotes per 1,000 hours. The numbers from the state fur industry also agree that red foxes are disappearing. In 1980 fur buyers purchased 18,000 red fox pelts while only obtaining 28 coyote pelts. In 2010 only 1,700 red fox pelts were sold while coyote pelts jumped to 3,000.

All signs point to the fact that the red fox population had decreased significantly. Not all is gloom and doom however, sightings of the animals in Ohio have increased in the past several years. This may be due in part to their closer proximity to humans, but experts remain optimistic that the foxes are adapting. In the meanwhile, the residents of Columbus say they do not mind their furry guests. The foxes are cutting down on the number of cottontails and rats that roam the city’s streets.

“We’ve seen the foxes picking up squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits,” said Andreas Von Recum, a retired professor of Veterinary Medicine. “They are in abundance here–more than we would like–so foxes will do some good.”

Image from Peter Trimming on the flickr Creative Commons

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