LINCOLN PARK — Could more rabbits in the neighborhood spare a pet dog or cat from a coyote attack?
That's the question a Lincoln Park Zoo researcher hopes to answer following a Denver-based study that focused on prairie dogs and coyotes.
The recently completed Denver study found that in areas where higher concentrations of black-tailed prairie dogs were found in an urban landscape, the rate of coyote conflicts with humans or pets were significantly lower. Like rabbits, prairie dogs are common prey for coyotes.
"Coyote conflict," such as a pet attack, human attack or hostile encounter with a person, was most frequent in undeveloped areas without prairie dogs.
Attacks were 15 to 45 percent lower within 400 meters of areas colonized by prairie dogs, according to the study.
The exact reason for that hasn't been determined, but the next step is to test and see if areas with rabbit populations in Chicago have fewer coyote conflicts.
Scientists know what areas of Chicago have larger concentrations of rabbits and hope to replicate the study.
Rabbit populations differ from neighborhood to neighborhood in Chicago, said Seth Magle, director of Lincoln Park Zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute.
"Here in Lincoln Park we have lots and lots of rabbits, but I was talking to people in Logan Square who said they never see rabbits," Magle said.
The next step is collecting data on coyote conflicts around the city.
Magle said recent studies have shown an increase in coyote populations in cities including Chicago, but more than 99 percent of coyotes in the city will never come into conflict with anyone.
Magle is working with the city's department of Animal Care and Control to gather statistics on coyote conflicts and hopes to have preliminary results of the study in six months to a year.
If the study finds a link between rabbits in a neighborhood and a decline in coyote conflicts, the furry animals could be another tool for residents and the city to ease the coyote conflicts.
It could be as simple as modifying an environment to make an area more rabbit friendly, according to Magle.
"It's a very exiting study for us," he said.
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