News Release

Two Year Coyote Scat Project Ends with Over 3,000 Specimens Collected

Subscribe RSS Icon | What is RSS
Date: March 8, 2019
Contact: Ana Beatriz Cholo, 312-927-4845

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- A two-year National Park Service research study of scat, aka poop, that focused on what coyotes eat in urban Los Angeles, is culminating with a “scat party” Saturday morning at the Audubon Center at Debs Park (March 9). Volunteers will dissect the final samples and then celebrate their participation in the project with tacos.

The project may be the first time a coyote’s diet is being studied in downtown Los Angeles, and it is expected to yield information about the basic ecology of urban coyotes, which it is hoped will assist residents and policymakers in making informed decisions regarding coyote management.

Volunteers and interns were at the heart of this study, said National Park Service biologist Justin Brown who led the research.

“Without them, we could not have collected and dissected more than 3,200 scats,” Brown said. “They were out there picking up scat along predetermined scat lines from Beverly Hills to Boyle Heights, Westlake to Lincoln Heights. They put a lot of time into this work.”

To compare diets, researchers also collected scat throughout the Conejo Valley suburbs, which includes the city of Thousand Oaks, and the adjacent natural habitat. They attended trainings and analysis workshops to learn proper scat collection procedures that were held at the Audubon Center at Debs Park. Some also volunteered for the analysis team that helped examine the scat contents, a one- to two-day commitment per month.

The main question posed by the study is: what do urban coyotes, who deal with concrete, traffic, people, and fewer natural areas, actually eat relative to their suburban cousins? Thus far, it seems like Los Angeles coyotes’ favorite meals consist of fruits from ornamental trees, rabbits, insects, cats, pocket gophers, and human foods that were not disposed of properly. Analyses are not complete, but the table below gives a preliminary idea of what coyotes in the different regions are eating.

What are coyotes eating?

 
 

% found in Los Angeles scat

% found in Thousand Oaks scat

Human and pet foods

26%

8%

Rabbits

18%

48%

Pocket gophers

9%

13%

Ornamental fruits

26%

24%

Insects

19%

15%

Domestic cats

20%

4%

 

During monthly scat parties, community scientists dissected “clean” scat that had been thoroughly washed and “baked.”

“In fact, the scat is so clean that at some stage you have to ask, is this even scat anymore?” joked Brown.

The volunteers were tasked with dumping the bag’s contents onto a paper towel and then separating insect parts from animal parts and plant parts from the human related materials. Most do the work without gloves because it didn’t take long for them to learn how gloves are kind of annoying. Animal hair tends to stick to the gloves, Brown said.

Identifying what the items are is part of the learning process, and the volunteers were expected to try to figure it out for themselves first. When finished, they would call over a biologist who would then help them identify the item. Everything got marked and a few days later, the data were inputted to a database.

Another aspect of the research project involved collecting whiskers from coyotes that were recovered as road kill or captured as part of a broader study of coyotes. The National Park Service launched the urban coyote study in May of 2015 in order to better understand how coyotes are surviving in one of the most intensely developed cities in the nation.

Using the whiskers, researchers could do a stable isotope analysis to examine carbon nitrogen ratios. Scat is great for detecting hard parts in the diet remains like bones and seeds, but it’s not a good source of information for identifying human foods that are highly digestible, like hamburgers and bread. Researchers are collecting these data to better understand what resources coyotes are using across the landscape, in areas with high to low levels of urbanization, and to provide insight into how coyotes are persisting in some of the most urban areas of Los Angeles.

The results of the study will be analyzed in the coming weeks and biologists expect to submit the results for publication this year.

Scientists at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area have been studying carnivores in and around the Santa Monica Mountains since 1996.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) is the largest urban national park in the country, encompassing more than 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. A unit of the National Park Service, it comprises a seamless network of local, state and federal parks interwoven with private lands and communities. As one of only five Mediterranean ecosystems in the world, SMMNRA preserves the rich biological diversity of more than 450 animal species and 26 distinct plant communities. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/samo.

###



Last updated: July 31, 2019

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

26876 Mulholland Highway
Calabasas, CA 91302

Phone:

(805) 370-2301

Contact Us