Does L.A. Really Have a Coyote Problem?

A coyote puppy crosses the street in Westlake.EXPAND
A coyote puppy crosses the street in Westlake.

Coyotes, man. They're everywhere. That's what people say, anyway, if you go on social media or websites like Next Door. Even City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who wants the city to revise its Coyote Management Plan, said, in a motion:

Despite the efforts of the Department of Animal Services, problems with coyotes persist in City neighborhoods and, based on anecdotal evidence, seem to have gotten worse as coyotes are routinely seen during daylight hours in open spaces and park areas, raising concerns about potential attacks on children and small pets.

But is Los Angeles' population of urban coyotes really growing?

Probably not.

"We have no idea how many coyotes there are," says Andrew Hughan, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "There’s no responsible way for us to do surveys."

So what about all the recent coyote hysteria?

"There’s no scientific evidence that says there are more coyotes," Hughan says. "But there are certainly more reporting and sightings, because everyone’s got a cellphone in their pocket."

Justin Brown, an ecologist with the National Park Service, has been tracking coyotes in L.A. for a little more than a year. He, too, says there's no evidence one way or the other, but he believes the coyote population is stable. 

"We don’t think that they’re increasing," Brown says.

There are, however, certain neighborhoods that may have seen a coyote uptick.

"There are now coyotes in Baldwin Hills," says Dr. Travis Longcore, the science director of the Urban Wildlands Group. "They were not there a decade ago. They got there on their own."

Two coyote puppies run down the street in Westlake.EXPAND
Two coyote puppies run down the street in Westlake.

Until 1994, Los Angeles' Department of Animal Services trapped and sometimes even euthanized coyotes that were spotted near homes. Now, the department works with residents to try to stop attracting the coyotes, discouraging people from leaving out food and water. 

One thing that attracts coyotes, according to Longcore, is food left out by people for feral cats. According to a letter Longcore sent the City Council:

Intentional feeding by humans, either of coyotes directly, or by feeding feral and stray cats, leads to coyotes becoming aggressive and increases the risk of attacks dramatically. Scientists have documented instances where coyotes attack and kill the stray cats first, then attack children.

It is illegal to feed any nondomesticated, mammalian predator in Los Angeles. That includes coyotes, foxes, possums, raccoons and feral cats. But the law is rarely enforced. There's even been some suggestion that L.A. could legalize the feeding of feral cats, thanks in part to a group of very active animal-rights activists

"If the City goes forward with its current plans to legalize feeding of feral/stray cats, then the coyote problem will continue to worsen," Longcore wrote.

But Hughan also insists the "coyote problem" is overblown.

"There are very few communities that have an actual coyote problem," Hughan says. "What we would consider a real problem is people getting bit. And there's been very little of that. But there’s a perceived problem, because they’re scary-looking. I would encourage people to educate yourself and not to panic. Your chances of getting hit by lightning are more than getting bit by a coyote."

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