Monday, October 24, 2016

5 Questions For Glassell Park’s 101-year-old “Coyote Lady”

Lila Brooks coyotes Glassell Park

The Coyote Lady’s glamorous side | Brenda Rees

By Brenda Rees

For decades, Lila Brooks spoke on behalf of the wild urban coyote, a critter that was easily trapped and killed in Southern California from early settlers through the 1980s. Known affectionately as the “Coyote Lady,” this tough and scrappy Hungarian native recently celebrated her 101st birthday. Brooks may be a little fuzzy around the edges, but when you start talking wildlife with her in her Glassell Park residence, she is sharp as a tack.

It’s hard to get Brooks – a former hotel executive – off topic: she is as passionate about keeping wildlife wild today as she was in the 1970s when she advocated for L.A. City Hall to outlaw coyote trapping with steel-leg traps and to ban the public from feeding wildlife. Her California Wildlife Defenders was one of the first wildlife advocacy groups in the area.

“Coyotes are important to our ecosystem and Lila’s work was important to help support L.A. County’s natural resources,” says Tony Bell, spokesperson for Supervisor Michael Antonovich who publicly commended Brooks years ago. (Note: Being 101 years old has its perks. You are allowed to talk about what you love for hours and you also can deny reporters from taking your photograph.)

When did you first realize that wild animals were important to you?
I think I knew all my life. We lived in Budapest, Hungary. I was born there. I was born loving animals. I have been vegetarian all my life.

How did you know that coyotes needed your help?
Coyotes have been vilified for so long. A coyote was accused of killing Kelly Keen, a three-year-old in Glendale in 1981, but I think that coyote did not kill that child. In a frenzy, they slaughtered 55 innocent coyotes. It was never proven that the coyote killed that child. I got death threats for speaking out. [Note: The official cause of Kelly Keen’s death is listed a broken neck and blood loss as a result of a coyote attack. A controversial subject of the times, Keen’s death brought the issue of responsibly living with urban wildlife to the forefront, including the then routine practice of the public feeding wildlife. )

What do you want people to know about wildlife in Los Angeles?
Leave them alone! Let them be unmolested. Let them be wild. Do not feed them and do not kill them. Coyotes have been here since the Pleistocene epoch, three and half million years ago. And then they come and tell me, ‘Oh, there was a coyote in my back yard,” and I tell them, ‘No, you were in the coyote’s back yard.’

Wild animals are essential for the food chain and the balance of nature. Coyotes are beneficial, they devour rats, carrion, diseased ground squirrels, the vector of the plague.

I was at a backyard barbecue at a house in Bel Air. The owner had a fast food station and she was feeding about 60 coyotes. Every night, they came to feast on chicken backs and chicken necks! See, the people create the problem. Let them stay wild in the hills. They don’t belong in backyards.

I had to fight for that. It took me years to get that into law. Now, it’s all over the United States. (L.A. City originally turned down an ordinance against public feeding of wildlife, but adopted it later, joining with Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, South Pasadena and Pasadena.)

How did you get your message out to the public in the age of the non-existent Internet?
I had lots of demonstrations. I would set up my paraphernalia in front of the zoo, shopping malls, wherever. I sold coyotes t-shirts and passed around my literature. (Brooks had a full-sized stuff coyote dramatically poised as dead in a steel-leg trap which she placed on top of a shopping cart draped with a black cloth. She often brought this display to schools and other organizations for educational purposes.)

In 1972, I came up with non-lethal alternatives to trappings and wrote about them. My publications had dos and don’ts for homeowners. It was the first one ever. So many people were accusing animals of wrong behavior, but I exonerated the coyotes and told people they needed to see things differently. (Brooks’s California Wildlife Defenders created and distributed thousands of brochures about the coyote. L.A. County Agriculture Commission Weights/Measures office has adopted much of her “Coping With the Urban Coyote” in their current website: http://acwm.co.la.ca.us/scripts/coyo.htm)

Did you ever see coyotes in the wild?
At night I used to go up into the hills above Glendale with my tape recorder to get the coyotes’ song and I could never get it. (After playing a YouTube video of coyotes howling on a smart phone, Lila has tears in her eyes. “This is beautiful,” she says, kisses her finger and touches the coyotes on the screen. “This is how they are meant to be.”)

Coyotes Lila Brooks Glassell Park

Coyote brochures from Brooks’ Glassell Park home | Brenda Rees

Lila Brooks coyotes Glassell Park

Lila Brooks coyotes Glassell Park

“Save The Coyote” posters in Brooks’ home | Brenda Rees

Five Questions poses the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Want to know more about people in your neighborhood? Send suggestions  to [email protected]

Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock.

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  1. I disagree with this woman completely.

  2. i agree with this woman completely. i never have problems with coyotes as we take a few simple precautions: don’t leave food lying around, keep the small pets inside.

    • Say What?

      I am the master of my own yard. I should not have to worry about having a small child or my own pet roam about my own very urban (I’m 4 miles from the beach, boxed on all sides by freeways!!) back yard, nor should anyone else in my neighborhood, yet coyotes roam my neighborhood killing cats and dogs with impunity.

      The coyote needs to learn to FEAR man, as it once did.

      • that is the other thing you need to do: throw rocks at them when you see them in your yard. after a bit, they don’t come back because you taught them to fear you. I have pets and kids and no one has ever had a scary incident.

      • Dear Fellow Living Creature,

        “FEAR MAN?!?!?!?” – Wow. And you want to let your small children and pets roam about?

        I think the human inhabitants sound like far more of a problem than the coyotes.

      • Yikes!!!! Dear “master of your yard”

        With people like this in the world i am starting to ‘fear man” – laugh.

        Here is an idea – try responsible pet ownership and not neglecting your children. A healthy dose of fear for predators likely pre-dates their ‘fear of man’

        I personally do not subscribe to the ‘lets just kill everything for our own comfort and convenience’ philosophy.

        If that does not work for you try waving your fire stick around and grunting loudly.

    • I also have pets and small children by a very healthy coyote pack – the presence of which we value greatly.

      I do small things like – “don’t neglect my children and animals” – these very basic precautions make it so we can all adapt to its urbanization. The presence of animals is an important connection for me to a more healthy manner of living.

      The idea that coyotes (who DO belong here) are valued less than cats and dogs (that DON’T belong here) is nuts.

      We want to kill all the coyotes to protect your ‘right’ to be a negligent pet owner?

      I am going to go with ‘don’t kill coyotes’ on this one. live and let live buddy.

  3. Thank you so very much to Lila Brooks….you are a compassionate conservationist and a role model for all of us. I live in an area where coyotes have been vilified and persecuted (New Mexico). We will do all we can to carry on your teachings and promote co-existence. We will continue your work to respect, protect, and preserve this very important native species. And you Ms. Brooks are a national treasure.

  4. Wonderful story. Apparently Lila Brooks was the forerunner of many wildlife advocacy groups, setting the pace for education and peaceful coexistence. This woman is a true visionary and I wish there were more like her.

  5. On what basis does she belive that “a coyote did not kill that child”. All the experts seem to agree that Kelly was killed by a coyote. Where is the evidence? Why believe that? If not a coyote, then what? What does she believe killed that child? If she’s got some evidence to the contrary, please hold back no longer, let us see it or explain why you don’t believe she died of a coyote attack.

    • Chris – it could’ve been any kind of animal, including a dog-at-large. For them to have gone and indiscriminately killed 55 coyotes is a travesty.

      • Not according to the witnesses! Not according to the doctors and such! Where do you get this information that it might not have been a coyote? People saw it. The doctors checked it and said she was killed by a coyote. What makes you doubt it?

    • More people are injured/ killed on bikes each year than by coyotes – yet we advocate for MORE bikes, not their abolition. More children are also killed by humans. Thier removal, i am guessing, is not at the top of your list – again we make space for MORE people.

      Coyotes are living – long standing residents of this area (their ‘gentrification claims would put the regular eastsider rhetoric to shame)

      There are going to be isolated (very sad) encounters from time to time on both sides. More dead / displaced coyotes than people by far. As with all living things that live together – conflicts will happen.

      But these incidents need to be understood and put in a much broader perspective.

  6. Re “I would set up my paraphilia in front of the zoo, shopping malls, wherever. I sold coyotes t-shirts and passed around my literature.”

    “paraphilia” = unusual or atypical sexual impulses
    “paraphernalia” = objects and materials used for a specific activity

    • My Lord! What an embarrassing mistake! Does the editor of this page read the comments? This is truly an egregious error.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. It’s fixed now.

      • Thank you. Also, please do not let this woman spread the rumors about Kelly Keene’s death. Please add to the part where she says a coyote didn’t kill her some reporting about what you can learn about her death. It’s not right to allow her to spread such rumors without reporting the facts.

  7. a dingo ate my baby .

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