Did You Hear the One About the Chicago Coyote?
Did you hear the one about the coyote that walked into a Quizno’s in downtown Chicago, and apparently feeling overheated, hopped into a refrigerated case and sat in the fruit juice section?
Sorry, there is no punch line because this is not a joke. A coyote actually did this and it was reported in the Chicago Tribune among other news outlets. And according to Emporia State graduate Dr. Stanley Gehrt, the coyote is just one of at least 2,000 dwelling in the Windy City.
Gehrt, a native of Chanute, KS, graduated with Bachelor’s of Arts in Biology from Bethany College and then earned a Master’s of Science in Biology in 1988 from Emporia State. He completed his Ph.D. in Fisheries and Wildlife from the University of Missouri in 1994.
A love of the outdoors and its flora and fauna, developed at an early age for Gehrt.
“I became interested in wildlife while I was a child growing up in Chanute,” he says. “I spent much of my childhood outside, getting dirty, and catching anything I could get my hands on.”
After graduating with his biology degree from Bethany, he figured a career for Kansas Wildlife and Parks might be in his future. But after exploring the graduate program available at Emporia State, his career path changed.
“Emporia State was the best program for wildlife interests, especially with the research office of Kansas Wildlife and Parks located on campus. The graduate program is outstanding, as it gave me invaluable field and classroom experience and molded me into a competent wildlife professional."
“Those years at Emporia State were some of the most fruitful of my career, as I went from someone with virtually no experience or academic knowledge of the wildlife profession to a person that was able to compete and eventually work with some of the leaders of our profession.”
Gehrt found a passion for research while in the Emporia State graduate program and that led him to pursue a PhD at Mizzou. He then accepted a position as associate professor and wildlife extension specialist at Ohio State, while continuing with research focused primarily on urban wildlife issues. Now he is known as an internationally recognized raccoon and coyote expert. Gehrt’s work has been featured in multiple print, radio, and television media around the world. He played himself in Toxic Revenge, part of the Life After People series documentary aired on The History Channel.
“ESU certainly can claim an important part of this success,” he says.
Gehrt was featured on a documentary aired on public television entitled Raccoon Nation. Since the year 2000, he has served as the principle investigator of a long-term study of coyotes in the Chicago area. For the past 12 years, he and his team have captured and tracked nearly 600 coyotes across the metropolitan area. The coyote research has drawn a lot of media attention and is the largest study of its kind.
Even though the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation near Chicago was reportedly overwhelmed by complaints about coyotes — once referred to by Navajo sheepherders as “God’s dogs,” — attacking pets and stalking children, most people are surprised to find the animals roaming a city like Chicago. It does not seem likely, with the hustling and bustling of a large people population, the Windy City would provide a good territory for coyotes.
Even scientists were somewhat skeptical.
“Nine million people live in the greater Chicago area,” says Gehrt. “We didn’t think very many coyotes could thrive in such a highly urbanized area.”
Instead of finding a few, isolated packs around the city, Gehrt and his fellow researchers have found the coyotes just about everywhere.
“I’m sure there are some areas in the most heavily developed core that have few, if any, coyotes,” he says. “However, we can’t find any of those areas.”
Gehrt’s team discovered coyotes might range as far as 50 square miles in one evening and they might take up residence in city parks, apartment and commercial building complexes, or industrial parks. One of the tagged coyotes they followed roamed through five adjacent cities in one night.
“In most cases,” explains Gehrt, “people are totally oblivious to it. There will be coyotes hiding in bushes or in the parks or something, and people will be walking by with their dog and they’ll have no idea there’s a coyote there.”