Josh Henderson of the Galveston Police Department’s Animal Services Unit is no stranger to close encounters with island wildlife. However, the unit is embarking on a new type of project to assist wildlife biologists researching our coastal canids.
This week, the Animal Services Unit took an exciting new step in cooperation with researchers from the North American Canine Ancestry Project, which includes Drs. Kristin Brzeski and Bridgett vonHoldt, to collect data on the local coyote population to help researchers and the City of Galveston build a better understanding of the species.
Interest in the island coyote population has been high since Drs. Brzeski and vonHoldt discovered that a pack of Galveston coyotes had red wolf DNA, a species previously believed to be extinct from Texas. Since this 2018 discovery, the Animal Services Unit has been assisting North American Canine Ancestry Project researchers with collecting genetic samples from the coyotes they pick up.
Earlier this year, the Animal Services Unit began seeking GPS collars in hopes of expanding the ongoing genetic research project to include geospatial data. Having obtained the necessary state permits, a collaborative effort has been underway to collect data on the coyotes to learn more about their DNA as well as their movements and behaviors.
"This expansion of our coyote management and research is exciting and will be greatly informative. We can utilize this data to draw a clear line for the territories of each coyote pack in Galveston. In connection with game cameras we will be able to track their movements, pack size and behavior throughout the island. Keep your eyes out and continue to report coyote sightings," Henderson said.
Dr. Kristin Brzeski, Assistant Professor at Michigan Technological University, is one of the Project leads for the Canine Ancestry Project. Dr. Brzeski explained “Our collaboration with Josh Henderson and the city’s animal service unit is unique in that we’re working together to generate incredibly useful information about Galveston canids that will help the city manage the population, while also conducting research that is reshaping the history of red wolf extinction in Texas. Galveston Island coyotes are front and center in the cutting-edge genetic and ecological research we’re conducting to understand why red wolf ancestry has persisted in Gulf Coast canids and how we can use this information to help conserve the critically endangered red wolf.”
On Monday, Henderson collected research samples and successfully tagged a coyote with the first GPS collar after homeowners in Jamaica Beach called to report a coyote hiding under their car. He transported the young coyote to the Galveston Island Humane Society, where he took measurements, collected a blood and hair sample, put on his GPS collar, and even treated the coyote for fleas and ticks. The process does not cause harm to the coyotes.
Henderson then released him in a prairie in Jamaica Beach near where he was found. The research samples will be sent to Princeton and Michigan Technological Universities for continued study in the Canine Ancestry Project.
The unit currently has one more GPS collar to place on a local coyote. Thankfully, Dr. vonHoldt, Associate Professor; Princeton University) is sending two more GPS Collars shortly and efforts are underway to secure funding for additional GPS collars.