Experts say urban coyotes are here to stay
On March 14, this year, a 5-year-old boy walking with his father on the campus of Cal State Los Angeles was bitten on the leg from behind by a coyote, setting off an intensive hunt by California Department of Fish & Wildlife officers to find the offending animal and igniting a sometimes heated debate on urban coyotes.
California’s extended drought may be causing the animals to move into the city, but there seems to be no simple solution, and according to Niamh Quinn, who studies coyote-human interaction at the University of California Cooperative Extension in Orange County, the coyotes are here to stay. “Coyotes are not coming from the hills anymore. We have urban coyotes.”
Family pets, primarily cats, have been killed by coyotes in places where one would not expect, like Culver City, a virtual island in the middle of Los Angeles where the recent attacks have residents on edge.
Grieving pet owners would like to see the coyotes removed by any means possible, however experts say killing off a local population of coyotes will not solve the problem, and could even exasperate it, as the surviving animals have been found to have a larger litters of pups when their population is threatened.
Lynsey A. White, Urban Wildlife Specialist at The Humane Society of the United States, authored a paper in 2012, after Denver, Colorado, achieved success in reducing human-coyote conflicts there using a program of hazing and public education.
According to White, successfully resolving human-coyote conflicts involves changing the behavior of both people and coyotes. Educating the public about the need to eliminate food attractants in neighborhoods is crucial for preventing coyote habituation to people. Communicating proper pet care and safety (such as keeping cats indoors and dogs on-leash, especially in parks and during the coyote breeding season) is also essential for preventing coyote attacks on pets.
Changing coyote behavior involves hazing, and according to Denver’s established guidelines, there are five critical rules to follow:
- You must make a connection with the coyote while hazing. In order for a coyote to associate hazing with a danger from people, the coyote must know that the hazing is directed towards them. There must be eye contact between the hazer and the coyote and action must be directed at the coyote. (For example, throwing rocks from behind a bush or a car is not effective because the coyote does not associate a human with the action.)
- Only use hazing techniques when the coyote is present. Hazing techniques are only effective when you have a connection with the coyote. Banging pots and pans every time you walk out into your yard, for example, will not be effective. (The coyote will quickly habituate to the sound and will not associate it with a danger from humans.)
- Put yourself between the coyote and your pet or child. If you are with your child or pet when you encounter a coyote, place yourself in-between the coyote and pet or child (pick up the pet if it is small), and focus the coyote’s attention on you.
- Continue hazing until the coyote completely leaves the area. Habituated coyotes that have never been hazed will commonly not react at first to hazing. It may be necessary to approach the coyote more closely, or intensify hazing until the coyote runs away (or both). Sometimes, the coyote will run a short distance and then stop and turn towards you again. It is important to continue hazing until the coyote completely leaves the area (otherwise the coyote learns to “wait you out”).
- A variety of methods and hazers is important. The more techniques you use and the more people who haze, the more quickly coyotes will learn to associate all people with danger.
Local leaders often find themselves caught in the middle between angry residents and animal rights activists, and ultimately siding with wildlife experts that say learning to live with coyotes is the really the only answer.
A Guest Post by G. Leonard