Living – safely – with the urban coyote

Coyote on the streets of Echo Park | Courtesy National Park Service

By BRENDA REES

The recent report of a 3-year-old being being bitten by a coyote in an Elysian Park playground has rattled nerves and put many residents on high alert. But the concern and fear associated with this particular canine may be misplaced. People are overwhelmingly more likely to get bitten by a dog than have an encounter with a coyote, according to wildlife experts.

More than 160 coyote assaults have been reported in California from 1970s to 2007, according to the University of California. Compare that to the 1,919 dog bite insurance claims filed in California in a single year (2014) and you’ll see the bigger picture.

“In general, coyotes keep their distance from humans, and any encounter with people is extremely rare,” says Miguel Ordeñana, wildlife biologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. “The only time they don’t avoid humans is when they are habituated to human presence.”

What draws a coyote out of the shadows and closer to people is food. We humans are feeding them directly or indirectly with overflowing trash cans in our yards and parks, as well as leaving pet food and water outdoors, says Ordeñana.  Leaving out food for feral cats also attracts coyotes, who eat not only the food but also prey on the cats themselves.  “They are losing their fear of us.”

Courtesy National Park Service

Some tender-hearted citizens who directly feed and give water to coyotes leads to confusing situations for the wild animals

“Coyote problems are a community issue and neighborhoods have to have a unified strategy,” says Christy Brigham, Chief of Resources for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which is sponsoring the Urban Coyote Project. “You can’t have half the neighbors feeding coyotes and half of them trying to scare them away.”

Both Ordeñana and Brigham stress the incident in Elysian Park – as frightening as it sounds – illustrates the delicate nature of humans living with wild animals.

“People automatically think we should just rid of coyotes, but it’s not feasible because there are so many, you would have to be killing them constantly,” says Brigham adding that the critter is very adaptable, good at hiding and has high reproductions rates. It would be a Sisyphus-like task.

Our best bet is to keep everyone in their place.

People usually skulk back or become quiet when they see a coyote. Brigham suggests to do the opposite: Haze them and be as loud and terrifying as you can be. “Air horns, hoses, bells, clapping hands. Teach them that people can be scary,” she says. Whatever you do, don’t run. Stand your ground and be big.

“They are very smart and will learn fast,” she says. “After all, they are in the dog family.”

Brigham hopes the LA Urban Coyote project can shed new lights on the specifics of human/coyote conflicts and the factors that lead up to them.

“These encounters are exactly part of the reason we wanted to do this study in the first place,” she said. “I know this incident was scary and terrible …. but we have to change our behavior and environment if we want to keep the balance and peace with coyotes.”

Courtesy National Park Service

Coyotes primarily hunt rodents and rabbits for food, but are opportunistic eaters – they will take advantage of garbage, pet food and yes, domesticated animals and pets. The Keep Me Wild campaign by the California Fish and Wildlife offers these suggestions to folks on how to NOT invite wildlife into their own backyards.

  • Put garbage in tightly closed containers that cannot be tipped over.
  • Remove sources of water, especially in dry climates.
  • Bring pets in at night, and do not leave pet food outside.
  • Put away bird feeders at night to avoid attracting rodents and other coyote prey.
  • Provide secure enclosures for rabbits, poultry, etc.
  • Pick up fallen fruit and cover compost piles.
  • Ask your neighbors to follow these tips.

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Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock

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