Have your pets gone missing? Do you live near a canyon or wooded area? If you answered yes, coyotes may well be the cause of those disappearances.
Responding to a recent rash of reports of coyote sightings in coastal areas on the social networking service Nextdoor, San Diego Community Newspaper Group reached out to local residents and wildlife experts to discuss problems presented by urban coyotes.
Recently on Vickie Drive in north Pacific Beach near Kate Sessions Park, two friends and their five dogs reported on Nextdoor being “stalked and chased by a bold coyote who was not at all scared.”
That post touched off an extended string of comments and opinions about urban coyotes and what could — or should — be done about them.
Sandy Cole of Crown Point North knows first-hand the threat posed by urban coyotes: she’s lost a dog and four cats to them over the past couple of years. They’ve even tried, thus far unsuccessfully, to get her chickens.
“They just picked them off, one a time,” Cole said. “They are everywhere and they’re hungry and thirsty, and they just had babies so they’re hunting. They’ll come any time of day or night. They are not afraid of anyone.”
John Doe (requested anonymity) of Bird Rock has lived in the same home for 20 years. “Until this year, there was never an issue or problem with coyotes,” he said. “But this year, more and more people — four or five on my street —seem to be missing their cats. One cat that had been severely wounded by a coyote was rescued, but did not survive.”
The coyote (Canis latrans) is a widely distributed native North American canine with 19 subspecies weighing on average between 15 and 44 pounds. They live in family units or loosely knit packs of unrelated individuals. They’re primarily carnivores eating deer, rabbits, hares, rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. But they will eat fruits and vegetables, too.
Babs Fry, a local realtor who operates the nonprofit A Way Home For Animals, Inc. — which helps find stray dogs — said coyotes definitely threaten domestic canines.
“Resident dogs are at far greater risk than strays or loose dogs,” Fry said. “Strays or loose dogs are operating on survival and are keenly aware of their surroundings. Household pets left out, or unattended in yards, are unsuspecting and therefore easy prey. Sadly, we are teaching coyotes to hunt our pets because when an abundance of outdoor cats, unattended dogs or roaming pups is available, it's an easy food source that requires less effort than hunting natural prey.”
Cole of Crown Point tried everything up to and including purchasing wolf urine to mark her territory in the hopes the scent of a higher predator would keep coyotes away. It didn’t work.
But she did, ultimately, find a solution of sorts.
“I got four cats, two males and two females, at six weeks from different litters and they all grew up together,” she said. “Animals tend to have gangs or packs to become stronger and protect themselves. My (new) cats truly act as a team. They have packed together and protect each other.”
Cole spoke of what she felt the ultimate coyote solution should be.
“I don’t want to kill them,” she said. “They [coyotes] need to be removed to somewhere out in the wild where there’s enough food for them — jack rabbits, squirrels, gophers, etc.”
“Animal control will not deal with wildlife,” noted Bird Rock’s John Doe, who offered this advice: “Keep your animals indoors once the sun goes down. We’re sharing some of the same geography. They have litters and go out and try to forage and bring game back to their pups. And if you’re walking your dog(s), keep them on a short leash. Coyotes have been known to come out of the brush and grab animals at the end of long leashes.”
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
Lesa Johnston, education and outreach coordinator for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in Sacramento, answered these SDCNG questions about urban coyotes:
Q. Are coyote numbers increasing, and are they a threat to pets?
A. “There is no available data that demonstrates a population increase. However, scientists are reporting that urban coyote conflicts appear to be rising. Coyotes eat small animals, so unfortunately they will eat small pets (cats and small dogs). Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores and will eat a variety of plants and other animals. Urban coyotes that live within a neighborhood can pose a threat to unprotected pets: cats, small dogs, chickens, rabbits can easily become a food source for coyotes if precaution is not taken to protect them.”
Q. What can people do to discourage coyotes from coming around?
A. “Coyotes like all wildlife, seek food, shelter, cover and space in which to live. The number one thing people can do is remove food and attractants and modify heavily vegetated areas to discourage cover and resting places for coyotes. Keep trash contained and covered, remove fallen fruit from the ground and keep pet food inside. Do not feed wildlife. If there is no food sources available, the presence of coyotes can be minimized.”
Q. What government agency is responsible for taking care of issues dealing with coyotes and other wildlife?
A. “The federal government, state government, county government, and city government all have roles in managing wildlife. For responding to coyotes, it depends on the location and type of problem. CDFW typically only responds when a human has been bitten or injured by a coyote.”
Q. Can a government agency be contacted to trap and remove coyotes to a more favorable location?
A. “It is illegal to trap and relocate coyotes. Moving coyotes to a new location just moves the problem around. Coyotes are territorial, so it is unlikely that they will be successful after relocation. Residents can hire a trapper to trap and humanely euthanize coyotes. No depredation permit is required from CDFW. … State law designates coyotes as a non-game mammal that can be taken (killed) at any time of the year and in any number. Essentially, they have no protections except within city limits where no hunting is allowed.”
Q. Do coyotes pose a threat to humans at all? Would they attack a small, unattended child?
A. “Coyotes pose very little threat to humans. There are only a handful of bites on humans (there are many, many more bites from pet dogs each year). That being said, it’s always prudent to make sure small children are supervised in areas where wild animals are known to be present.”
Q. What are the do's and don’ts of confronting a coyote?
A. “Never approach a sick or injured coyote. Report sick and injured animals to local animal control. Coyotes are naturally curious animals. Often, a ‘stalking’ coyote is not actually stalking, but is curious and investigating. However, a coyote following a human is not a good idea to let continue — especially when walking pets. Coyotes can be scared away by loud noises (shouts, yells, air horns, whistles, cans with coins/rocks).
Don’t run or turn your back on coyotes. When trying to scare off a coyote, make sure they are able to run away (make sure you don’t corner or “trap” a coyote).”
Q Do you expect coyote sightings to increase as more and more land gets developed?
A. “We anticipate that as the human population increases, particularly in newly developed areas, people will see more wildlife. Additionally, habitat loss is the number one threat to wildlife. With land development, we could also see more wildlife hit by cars or killed by ingesting pesticides.”