Driving through Grand Canyon National Park continues to be an adventure for many motorists. The drought conditions have drawn many types of wildlife into developed areas of the park and it’s not uncommon to see them crossing or near roadways.
Coyotes have been a frequent sight in the South Rim village this year. (GCN file photo)
"Drought conditions are just wreaking havoc with wildlife in and outside the park," GCNP wildlife biologist Elaine Leslie said. "We have a record number of ungulate (deer, elk)-motor vehicle collisions as animals are moving around looking for water and forage."
Besides the deer and elk, there have been many more sightings of other wildlife this spring and summer. The negative situation involving wildlife and residents’ pets continues.
"We are finding an increase in wildlife utilizing the developed zone this summer as coyotes, lions, bobcat and fox are searching for any source of water and prey," Leslie said. "Several cats and one dog have been killed by wildlife in the developed zone in the past few weeks."
One species in particular has been interacting with the public more and more. Coyotes have been seen just about everywhere from hanging around the grocery store to approaching residents in backyards.
"The coyote situation has not gotten much better," Leslie said. "About 10 animals have been relocated, some died from the transrelocation efforts, others were hit by cars."
There have been various reports of coyotes in odd situations as the animals roam around the village in search of food and water.
"There is a small mammal population crash and coyotes particularly are suffering," Leslie said. "One coyote has been visiting the hotels and even the grocery store in search of handouts. We even had a report of a resident that was sitting in her backyard and allowed a coyote to lick her hand."
Park rangers have been dealing with a particular coyote that has been frequenting Yavapai Lodge’s loading dock area. An employee there said the coyote showed up consistently for a week and it was reportedly either sick or just being stubborn and refusing to leave.
Interaction with coyotes and other wildlife is discouraged by park staff and if it does happen, the results can be damaging.
"We continue to caution residents and visitors not to interact with these animals in such an irresponsible manner as they can carry rabies and can cause serious damage," Leslie said. "And the wildlife suffers as we have to trap or kill them following these interactions."
Leslie said the park has been fortunate to obtain funding from the Grand Canyon National Park Foundation to support a wildlife technician that has managed to prevent more wildlife loss due to habituation.
In addition to the concerns over interaction, Leslie said there has also been an increase with antler poaching, which is illegal inside the park.
"We are also seeing an increase in poaching attempts of antlers," Leslie said. "We have resorted to putting up remote cameras and satellite tags in carcasses in order to ‘catch’ thieves who try to steal antlers of bull elk or bucks."
Leslie said the effort to educate residents and visitors about park policies and mandates involving animals continues. Offering water to animals, for example, disrupts the natural process.
"Drought conditions are natural. If we were to supplementally water animals — and this is strictly forbidden in park policy — there would be an unnatural concentration of animals fighting to survive," Leslie said. "As there is little forage, they would eventually starve to death. As some animals succumb to drought conditions, the stronger animals will survive, hence, natural selection."
Residents are strongly reminded to keep dogs on leashes and not let cats roam freely in the park, a practice that Leslie said has continued to cause problems.
"We have to remember that we are fortunate to live within the boundaries of a national park," she said. "With that comes some responsibilities, and that is coexisting with wildlife with as few impacts as possible. That is really not the case right now in the residential area."