How to prevent dangerous interactions with coyotes as spring arrives in Southern California – Daily News
With spring in full swing, California coyotes are in their normal whelping season to care for hatchlings and can be seen more frequently venturing into urban areas in search of food, water and shelter.
This puts pets on the outside – and sometimes people – at risk of attack and injury. However, precautionary and confrontational measures can mitigate interactions between coyotes and humans; as well as coyotes and pets and livestock.
Where and when to encounter coyotes
Alex Heeren, a researcher with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, focuses on how people interact with wildlife in urban settings. He speaks with residents across the state about preventing interactions with coyotes in their homes.
“(Coyotes) do very well in urban areas and it’s thanks to people with outdoor sources of garbage and…pet food that will end up with coyote problems,” Heeren said. .
Coyotes can be found in most environments in California, both urban and rural.
Historically, coyotes were considered nocturnal, but the lack of natural predators in urban settings allows them to move more freely during the day, and cars are usually their biggest danger, Heeren said.
Coyote populations are essentially uncontrollable, said Sgt. JR Stewart with Mission Viejo Animal Control. When members of coyote packs are killed, surviving pack members split into new packs and repopulate, reducing their population to normal levels and sometimes inflating their numbers above average.
Current coyote populations — which Stewart and Heeren say are impossible to estimate — are a testament to their courage after centuries of human interaction, Stewart said.
“There were gray wolves and Mexican bears (in Orange County) before humans killed them,” Stewart said. “The mountain lion population is very low, but the coyote population has remained strong throughout all of this.”
The Mission Viejo agency will remove any injured or sick coyotes, Stewart said. If a coyote bites a person, the coyote will be assessed for rabies, he said.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife will only intervene when a human is bitten, Heeren said. On average, there can be between five and 15 coyote bites in southern California per year, he said.
In 2018, a three-year-old girl was bitten on the head in a park in Placentia by a coyote that tried to bite other people after the attack. The coyote was found and shot by police.
Stewart and Heeren pointed out that unprovoked coyote bites are extremely rare. Often bites occur when someone tries to feed a coyote, Stewart said.
A harsh reality
On April 12, Cindy Gaitan of the Magnolia Center neighborhood of Riverside took her three dogs through their daily routine: feeding them in the morning and leaving them in the yard to relieve themselves and sunbathe, Gaitan said.
When Gaitan went to let the dogs back five minutes later, she was horrified to find a coyote mauling her 14-year-old chihuahua, Spanky.
“I knew that Spanky was dead. I screamed at the top of my voice,” Gaitan said. “The coyote took off as if nothing had happened.”
After 22 years at home, they had never seen a coyote in their residential area of town, said Jason Smolchuck, Gaitan’s boyfriend. The backyard is secured with six to eight foot high fences, he said.
Gaitan wondered if rabbit populations recently killed by hemorrhagic disease had changed the behavior of coyotes. But while clusters of diseased rabbit carcasses have been present in Southern California since early 2020, no evidence of it affecting coyotes is available, said Deanna Clifford, senior wildlife veterinarian at the Department of Fish. and Wildlife.
The ongoing drought conditions have impacted local wildlife behavior more than anything else, Clifford and Heeren said.
How to protect your property from coyotes
The Department of Fish and Wildlife, with its “Keep Me Wild” program, advises people to keep coyotes away by putting garbage in tightly sealed containers, removing water sources, removing attractants such as pet food or birdbaths, bringing pets in at night, providing secure enclosures for livestock, picking up fallen fruit and covering compost heaps.
Mission Viejo’s animal services department cares for coyotes every day, according to Stewart. It also serves Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Hills and Rancho Santa Margarita.
Stewart urges residents to take a direct approach called “hazing,” which is supposed to make coyotes fear humans.
Stewart encourages confrontations with coyotes by making noise at them, chasing them or even throwing objects such as small rocks or pine cones at them, he said. Although he does not encourage any harm to coyotes, he pointed out that coyotes must associate humans with something negative.
“When a coyote fears you, there’s no problem,” Stewart said. “When a coyote runs, that’s how it should be.”
Part of the ecosystem
But Stewart pointed to the important role coyotes play in local ecosystems. Without them, urban areas would likely be overrun with rodents and rabbits, some of the main food sources for coyotes, he said. He said as growth continues in Southern California, local coyote populations will likely continue to feed and reflect the number of nearby humans at scale.