Capstones

Graduation Date

Fall 12-31-2015

First Advisor

Yoruba Richen

Subject Concentration

Health & Science

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Abstract

Coyotes have been slowly moving into New York State from Canada since the 1930s. They reached Westchester County and the Bronx decades ago, and their numbers have been slowly rising. Sighting in Manhattan reached an all-time high last spring, and pet attacks in Westchester County have increased slightly in the last several years. But the slight increase in sightings and pet attacks in recent years has been amplified on social media in towns like Chappaqua, New York, where anxiety and fear about coyotes has pitted neighbors against neighbors.

Main character Frank Vincenti is a Long Island barber and a self-proclaimed wildlife educator. He’s always wanted to be a scientist, but he wasn’t able to go to school for it—instead he runs his family’s 4th generation barbershop business. Frank gives talks in communities in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, trying to teach people how to live with coyotes. He may not have the academic qualifications of some educators, but he makes up for it with passion and humor. He He’s on a mission to teach people how to live with coyotes. Frank believes that coyotes are here to stay, and he does his best to educate people on how to protect their pets and train coyotes to avoid humans. He’s charismatic, funny, and enthusiastic, but there is also some pathos to his unsuccessful efforts to help others.

In recent years, Frank has been trying to give talks in towns around Westchester about how to deal with coyotes, but the towns don’t always want his help. In the hamlet of Chappaqua, coyote attacks came to a head in 2013, and Frank was finally invited to speak (along with a state expert) after several dogs were killed. Frank’s talk didn’t go well—residents were angry and upset, and his speaking style (he makes a lot of bad jokes) wasn’t appreciated by some of the people who had just lost their pets. Since then, the town has tried to develop a plan for how to deal with coyotes, but there have been strongly opposing viewpoints. Some people feel coyotes should be left alone, while others feel they should be trapped and eliminated, leading to some heated exchanges on social media and at public meetings.

The film looks at the coyote conflict in Westchester and the frustrated efforts of one outsider—Frank Vincenti—to improve human-coyote interactions. It’s a portrait of small-town politics and an example of how human ambitions and emotions can be projected onto the natural world.

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