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Satellites track Badlands coyotes

Scientists hope to use satellite-based technology to help them better estimate the coyote population of Badlands National Park. Wildlife biologists have fitted 10 coyotes with radio collars equipped with global-positioning system receivers, which use satellite transmissions to pinpoint an animal’s location to within a few feet. Doug Albertson and colleague Greg Schroeder will collar half a dozen more coyotes this year.

Others already have studied the “relative density” of coyotes along certain game trails and vehicle tracks in the park. Their research suggests there are more coyotes per square mile in Badlands National Park than anywhere in South Dakota.

Albertson said that makes sense intuitively, because the park is one of the few places where coyotes cannot be hunted.
Now, Albertson and Schroeder hope to combine the findings on relative densities with GPS data to get a clearer picture of the coyote population. They still won’t have a census number, Albertson said, but he added, “That’s what we’re working toward.” The three-year, $48,000 study also will help determine reproduction rates, survival rates and the locations and sizes of home ranges. Home-range data will be immediately useful. The park is working with the state of South Dakota to reintroduce swift foxes to the wild. Coyotes tend to dominate the smaller foxes, so placing them where there aren’t coyotes increases the chances of success.

Radio transmissions from the collars can give biologists general locations for the animals, but data from the GPS units must be collected from the collars themselves, which are programmed to automatically open and drop off in the fall. When the collars drop off, they start emitting a different radio signal, which scientists can track. GPS data already collected last fall show that coyotes are very territorial, but occasionally they hit the road. One GPS unit showed that a young coyote had strayed 52 miles north before returning to the park.