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Coywolves Spook Towns, Stealing Dog Toys: Review

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Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Soon they’ll be ordering pizza with extra cheese.

Headquartered in Toronto, spreading through the northeast, the coywolf has been exciting biologists for over a decade. Big of head and paw, this slim, squinty-eyed creature is a new hybrid species, a cross between a wolf and a coyote, and are they ever smart.

“Meet the Coywolf” tonight on Nature as PBS pays tribute to this mysterious new addition to the neighborhood.

Scientists say it may be the most adaptable animal on the planet.

I wouldn’t survive very long in Algonquin Park, Canada, or on the streets of Toronto, for that matter. But the coywolf does very nicely in all sorts of environments.

Observant creatures, they study humans in an opportunistic kind of way. An amusing vignette shows a coywolf waiting patiently for the resident human to finally get into his car so it can check out the backyard.

So often, we seem to provide entertainment. Another camera captures a coywolf following a jogger until it gets distracted by a coffee cup on the street. The self-absorbed athlete had no idea. Incidences of human attacks are extremely rare, by the way.

Family Dining

Why are there coywolves? Thank Columbus. Settlers killed so many wolves that only a small population survived in the north east. Lonely wolves mated with coyotes who had come up from the south. Their offspring were first noted in Algonquin Park’s 300,000 square miles around 1919.

Elsewhere in the U.S., wolves are known to kill coyotes. “Nature” shows us a family of wolves, coyotes and hybrids at dinner, chomping on a carcass.

Thanks to radio collars and GPS, scientists can track them on their expeditions, though even then they’re frustratingly elusive. We see lots of scientists laden down with instruments, looking puzzled.

“Every time we think we’ve figured them out, we find out that we’ve underestimated them,” says one biologist. He adds that the creatures have taught him humility, not a bad thing for scientists.

One female coywolf prefers napping in the weedy center of a highway intersection, which she reaches using an underground bridge. Why does she like this setting? Because everyone is whizzing by and she can relax and plan.

“Nature” follows coywolves traveling to warmer realms. Yes, they use the railroad, albeit for the moment just the tracks. Urban environments offer a ready food source like squirrels, rodents and ducklings. Carefully transporting a large egg in its mouth, a coywolf suddenly stops on the street in obvious frustration as it spots some roadkill. Which is better?

Dog Toys

“Nature” also spends time in the Chicago area, following the coywolf’s local version, very large coyotes, of which there may be as many as 2,000. One coyote has settled into a neighborhood where he ambles around during the day, stealing dog toys. “We’re used to him now,” says a local woman.

But generally, they see us more than we see them.

Spooking across bridges and roadways, at least one has made it to New York’s Central Park, where he briefly sampled a buffet of beagles, half-eaten muffins and baby raccoons before being sent to the Queens Zoo.

“Meet the Coywolf” airs tonight, Jan. 22, at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and will be streamed afterward on http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature.

(Manuela Hoelterhoff is an executive editor at Bloomberg News. Any opinions are her own.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Brecher at jbrecher4@bloomberg.net

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