Coyotes moving into Kentucky communities; the threat and the benefit

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - If you've heard them before, late at night, you know there aren't many things more frightening sounding, than a pack of screaming coyotes. Even on the edges of Lexington developments, coyotes are making a home. Recently, WKYT's Sam Dick went out with a coyote tracker to learn more about these animals, to understand the threat to people and other animals like livestock and pets, and why wildlife biologists say the coyote is important for keeping smaller, wildlife animals in check.

Business is good for Bill Abernathy. "I'm turning down about half the calls I get already. I just can't get to 'em."

Videographer Devin Jackson and Sam Dick hopped in the truck cab of Bill Abernathy, owner of KYote Wildlife Control. It's midnight, and Abernathy has a full night of work ahead of him.

"The main things I deal with are probably raccoons, squirrels, skunks, possums, rats, mice, and coyotes."

On this night he's looking for coyotes.

"They're just super adaptable."

Abernathy says, "They're pretty much everywhere. You'd really be surprised there's a lot more of them around than people think. They don't see 'em. For probably everyone they see, there's probably 10 or 12 they don't."

Coyotes have a powerful sense of smell.

"It's really a big deal for cattle farmers...especially come calving season. Those coyotes know, when they smell that afterbirth, and they kill the calves."

Coyotes are not known to threaten people, but farm owner, Lynn Rushing says, "There was a larger coyote, large, and smaller coyote standing at the fence post. They actually approached my daughter, even with her screaming."

Rushing's children raise chickens and ducks on their farm just off Jacks Creek Pike. Rushing says, " They crossed a line."

"And they were coming and approaching my daughter. Then I have a problem."

The Rushings needed help. Dozens of ducks and chickens had disappeared. So the Rushings fought back...hiring Abernathy to help get rid of the coyotes. And they now have a Great Pyrennes named Dixie patrolling the farm at night.

"She will bark aggressively to try to keep them off the property, but if they come on the property, she's going to chase them and chase them until they leave."

Biologists believe the coyote is also a misunderstood animal that benefits the environment in which it lives.

Lindsay McCollum says, "There's a lot of things coyotes do that benefit us. Obviously they control small mammal populations...rabbits, mice, these are some of their favorite foods, and they do really well on rodent control for us."

McCollum is a wildlife biologist based in Frankfort. She says killing the coyote is not the way to control it.

Lindsay says, "You can do some different fencing options to keep them away from your livestock. You can also use guard dogs and guard donkeys have been shown in studies to be highly effective to keep your herd safe."

Sam Dick and Deven Jackson followed Abernathy into a farm field. "The wind is in our face, which is what we ideally want."

During the search in the middle of the night, the crew had hoped to hear some coyotes, and maybe even see them. How do you get the attention of coyotes?

"I use an electronic call. It's called a Fox Pro. It's got a speaker unit with a remote, and I can choose hundreds of sounds," said Abernathy.

Abernathy places a speaker on a fence post.

"This is the remote right here, and I can scroll here, and pick up what sound I want."

The sound that comes out of his speaker is ear piercing and frightening at night. It's a cacophony of screaming coyotes that roll across the countryside. It sounds very much like the real thing. But it's a recording.

He also tried some siren sounds.

"They're probably one of the more, most adaptable critters I know of."
He says, "Ever since we've settled out West...we've trapped 'em, they've shot 'em from helicopters, they've poisoned them, everything in the world. And all they've done is thrive, and move Eastward."

McCollum disagrees and says, "What we should be looking at is other options as solutions that are gonna end up as co-existent with these animals because they're not gonna go anywhere."

Wildlife experts say coyotes are critical to keeping natural areas healthy. For example, small rodents are part of the coyotes diet. The rodents are nest predators, and if they are not kept in check, the populations of ground nesting birds and their eggs are thrown off balance. Coyotes help by keeping the rodents in check, and thereby saving the smaller nesting animals.

How many coyotes are in the Lexington area is unknown, but enough to keep people like Bill Abernathy in business.

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