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Science Wednesday: Meet the Coywolf

Tue, 01/21/2014 - 10:33am -- WCVE

The coywolf, a mixture of western coyote and eastern wolf, is a remarkable new hybrid carnivore that is taking over territories once roamed by wolves and slipping unnoticed into our cities. Its appearance is very recent — within the last 90 years — in evolutionary terms, a blip in time. Beginning in Canada but by no means ending there, the story of how it came to be is an extraordinary tale of how quickly adaptation and evolution can occur, especially when humans interfere.

Tag along as scientists study this new top predator, tracking it from the wilderness of Ontario’s Algonquin Park, through parking lots, alleys and backyards in Toronto all the way to the streets of New York City.

Watch Nature: Meet the Coywolf, January 22 at 8:00 p.m. on WCVE PBS/WHTJ PBS. Check listings for additional air-times.

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Because these animals originated in the east, they are also known as eastern coyotes. Scientists say it is one of the most adaptable mammals on the planet, but what surprises them most is how this wild carnivore manages to live right alongside us while remaining just out of view. Many of us now share our yards, parks and streets with these elusive new predators even though we may hardly ever get a glimpse of one.

To understand the origins of the coywolf, scientists say you have to go back to the impact of the settlers in the eastern part of North America who cut down the forests which had been home to the eastern wolf and deer. As the settlers experienced problems with their livestock, the wolf population was decimated which opened the region to the smaller western coyote. Over time, these coyotes made their way north to Ontario’s Algonquin Park, one of the last safe havens for the eastern wolf.

Elsewhere, wolves kill coyotes, but with their dwindling numbers, the eastern wolf became the genetic bridge between the two species with the birth of the coywolf around 1919. This surprising research by field biologist John Benson also revealed that coyotes and eastern wolves not only continue to mate, but he discovered that some coyotes, wolves and coywolves continue to live in packs and raise their young together in and around Algonquin Park.