How Do Bronx Residents View Their Natural Surroundings? – End of Summer Report

This summer, I worked on a project entitled “How Do Bronx Residents View Their Natural Surroundings?” with Dr. Toomey. My goal was to gain further insight into how Bronx residents view their urban surroundings in terms of nature and wildlife through park surveys and interviews. At first, I helped the Gotham Coyote Project maintain cameras in Van Cortlandt Park. This allowed me to become more familiar with the advances in research the Gotham Coyote Project has made, so that I could relay relevant information to local residents. After deploying cameras, I conducted short surveys of Van Cortlandt Park park goers and interviewed Riverdale/Kingsbridge residents. Through this research, I was able to learn more about the nuances in opinions of wildlife and nature in the area, how educated residents were on their local environment, and spread education through direct community engagement.

At first, I decided to focus on collecting surveys in the park and using “snowball sampling” to find qualifying interviewees. However, it soon became apparent to me that this method wasn’t feasible for a project with a shorter time frame. By speaking with a local community member, I was made aware of the fact that most neighborhoods have private Facebook pages where residents can interact. As a Riverdale resident, I was able to join my community Facebook page and directly engage with community members. Using social media as a means of recruitment was very successful as many residents reached out to me to indicate their interest in being interviewed.

To analyze the responses I received from my interviews, I used qualitative coding. This method was appropriate for my research as my data came in the form of interview transcripts. When coding, I first read through all of my transcripts as a whole. I then went through each transcript one by one and color coded words and phrases with negative and  positive connotations. From that, I was able to look at the transcripts again and made notes of themes. This allowed me to create larger categories from the themes, and see how often they appeared in responses.

Originally we aimed to collect 5-10 interviews. At this point, I have interviewed 6 people in total, which is a huge accomplishment. Each interview consisted of 17 questions and took roughly 30 minutes to complete. After completing the survey, interviewees had the opportunity to ask me any questions they had in regards to coyotes in the Bronx.

Throughout my interview transcripts, the themes that appeared most often in my transcripts were habitat, distance, animalistic, curiosity, and safety. I coded for habitat whenever responses indicated or mentioned resources, human development, the state of the environment, and wildlife protection. I coded for distance whenever responses mentioned keeping coyotes away from humans, avoiding interaction, and leaving coyotes alone. Animalistic was a code I used for responses that discussed what people perceived to be the natural and uncontrollable tendencies of coyotes to hunt and exhibit other predatory behaviors. When responses indicated a lack of knowledge in regards to coyote ecology or interactions, I coded them under the theme of curiosity. Finally, when responses mentioned awareness or feelings of fear or threat in regards to coyotes, I coded them under the theme of safety.

Overall, I had a very positive experience with this program and research. It exposed me to a different side of scientific study that I’m less familiar with. The combination of bad weather, language barriers, and many New Yorkers’ avoidance of people armed with clipboards and questions made it difficult to find park goers and Riverdale/Kingsbridge residents to participate in this study. However, this program gave me a greater understanding of the challenges that can arise when doing research in the social sciences and how one can adapt. My mentor has helped me in recognizing my strengths as a researcher and a person, and using them to my advantage. She has also helped me in learning how to be independent from a research perspective, how to build upon previous research effectively, and how I can use my strengths to guide me down a career path I will enjoy. I have also learned a great deal about research ethics and how to do qualitative coding this summer. This project was the first time that I have ever used qualitative coding and I now have a great appreciation for the usefulness of this research method. Finally, this project and my mentor has made me incredibly interested in the social science field.

Perceptions of Coyotes in Riverdale/Kingsbridge

Preserved coyote at Wave Hill

Since my last blog post, I have made an incredible amount of progress in terms of surveying and interviewing members of the Riverdale/Kingsbridge community. At first, I mainly focused on surveying general park goers of Van Cortlandt Park as I tried to figure out the best way to find residents who would qualify for my interview. My interview consisted of 17 questions, and each one took about 30 minutes to complete. From the responses I received I have been able to gain a better sense of how educated Bronxites are on coyote ecology in the area. From my study, I’ve learned that the amount of knowledge of coyote ecology is very varied. One interesting finding from my data is that while many residents believe that coyotes, wildlife in general, and nature should be treated with respect and cared for, some also believe that coyotes in particular should be removed or don’t belong in New York City. I am very curious about looking into this discrepancy further as I progress with my analysis. Another theme I’ve noticed is that language indicating fear, curiosity, and/or uncertainty appeared frequently in responses. The data I have collected has shown me that there is a very large gap in information about coyotes, despite previous and current efforts from the Parks Department to educate people about this species and other wildlife in the region.

North Riverdale building complex where coyotes have been spotted by residents in previous years.
Polaroid picture of North Riverdale.

As a result of the data I have collected, I am very interested in looking more into the specific steps the Parks Department used previously to educate Riverdale/Kingsbridge residents about coyotes. This project has definitely confirmed my thoughts of the importance and efficacy of using direct community engagement as a means of educating people. Several interviewees expressed that they have very little information about the ecology of coyotes, and that therefore their perceptions are based on opinions rather than on ecological awareness and scientific fact. A few interviewees also expressed that they were open to changing their opinions if they were given the opportunity to learn more about the ecology of coyotes in the Bronx.

North Riverdale

This project has strengthened my interest in wildlife education and has encouraged me to possibly work with the Parks Department, and specifically their Wildlife Unit to educate more people on coyote ecology. I am also now very interested in how and if the responses of Riverdale/Kingsbridge residents would change if they were provided with a more accessible way of learning about coyotes in the area.

View of woods in South Riverdale.

Can Coyotes Be New Yorkers Too?

This summer I will be working with Dr. Toomey on a project focused on coyote perceptions in Riverdale and Kingsbridge, New York. Riverdale/Kingsbridge is a small section of the Northwestern Bronx, which borders Yonkers. Having grown up in Riverdale, I am particularly interested in learning more about my own community and how residents view local wildlife and nature. I was first made aware of coyotes in the Bronx in 2014, as I was involved in Wave Hill’s Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship Program. At the time, I barely knew what a coyote looked like, let alone that I lived amongst them! In the years following, New York City’s Wildlife Unit made efforts to inform New Yorkers about local wildlife through a series of bus stop advertisements. However, if I hadn’t been involved with the Gotham Coyote Project, I would have had very little knowledge of how to deal with urban coyotes. Although I have never seen or heard coyotes in my neighborhood, I know that several residents have seen them. The idea that some residents have seen coyotes in the area, while others may still be unaware of their existence is incredibly interesting and has made me very passionate about discovering what knowledge base and opinions members of my community have in regards to coyotes.

The title of our project is currently How Do Bronx Residents View Their Natural Surroundings? The purpose of our project is to gain further insight into how Bronx residents view their urban surroundings in terms of nature and wildlife. We hope to expand on previous surveying of Bronx Van Cortlandt Park goers to more in-depth interviews of local residents. From these more intensive interviews, we hope to get to the root of and learn more about the nuances of Bronxites’ opinions of their local environment, coyotes, and wildlife in general. Through our research, we also aim to have a better understanding of how well educated Bronxites are on coyotes.

By interviewing and surveying residents, our goal is to continue to spread awareness of local wildlife ecology in a positive manner, in the hopes that increased education and awareness will help to quell fears of coyotes and prevent negative human-wildlife conflicts/interactions. To achieve this, I devised a list of 17 interview questions which were designed to potentially reveal deep-seated feelings and opinions of nature, wildlife, coyotes, and New York City’s urban ecology. For this project, we will be interviewing long-term New York City residents who reside in the Bronx. It is important that we interview native community members because our research is very specific to the area. Interviewing residents or park-goers who aren’t native to the area may alter our results as their opinions may be influenced by the environments they were raised in. The Riverdale/Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, where our research is located, is very tight-knit, so we are using chain sampling or “snowball sampling” to recruit interviewees. This method of sampling will potentially help us in ensuring that our interviewees are native Bronxites and are willing to undergo the interview process. To analyze our data, we plan on using qualitative coding, which will draw out key themes that emerge from the interviews.