Urban coyote sightings reported via social media have multiplied over the last several years. Once confined to hillside communities that encroach on the predators’ dens and territories, coyotes are now seen skulking around in daylight hours in beach communities from Playa del Rey to Venice.
From May to September is the time when coyotes are raising new additions to their families, so it may seem to the casual observer out walking their dog that there are more than usual.
“This is one of those times when the pups require a lot of calories, so the parents will be more active and more visible,” said Dr. Eric Strauss, a Loyola Marymount University professor of biology and an expert in coyote behavior.
“It’s also possible that young males from previous litters may be more visible as they look for their own dens.”
Strauss said coyotes play a critical role in the ecosystem because they keep the rodent population low and also limit the number of skunks and raccoons, which helps build biodiversity.
In 2015, biologists from the National Park Service noted that a female coyote had launched multiple attacks on neighborhood dogs in Silver Lake after learning through video surveillance that she had a litter of pups nearby.
Reports of aggressive coyotes have also increased on social media sites, which have proved to not always be a reliable source of accurate information. While the animals almost always avoid contact with humans, residents from Burbank to Westchester have reported coyotes carrying away small pets and in some cases biting young children.
California State University of Los Angeles campus police shot and killed a coyote in March after it bit a 5-year-old boy and aggressively approached a student.
Last year, Playa del Rey resident Leonora Smith said a coyote bit her on the hand while lunging at her dog in the early morning hours. And there have been numerous reports of coyotes attacking pets in and out of their yards, causing panic in some communities.
In Westchester, residents gathered near a park in the shadow of Los Angeles International Airport to complain about coyote attacks; some even raised the specter of trapping the animals.
Los Angeles wildlife officer Hoang Dinh pointed out that it is illegal in the city of Los Angeles to use snare traps on coyotes. He noted that the best way to keep coyotes from attacking is to not feed them — feeding them also is illegal — and maintain the barriers that nature has set up between people and the wild canines.
“Fear of humans is ingrained in their DNA, and we need to keep it that way. My goal is to keep the wildlife afraid of us and out of sight,” Dinh said.
However, coyotes can be killed if they attack a human, as in the Cal State Los Angeles case, as they are considered by state officials to be “non-game animals,” which can be killed by most means with the exception of using leg hold traps and poison.
According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, coyote attacks on human jumped from two in 2011 to 16 in 2016.
How various municipalities handle coyotes living alongside or near humans varies.
The Los Angeles City Council has focused on educating the public about coexisting with coyotes and on fining those who feed coyotes, which wildlife experts says destroys the fear barrier between humans and the animals and creates conditions where they can become familiar with people and can lead to possible attacks.
The council eschewed a proposal in 2016 to relocate coyotes. Strauss, the coyote expert, agrees that euthanization would be a last resort for a coyote that attacks children or adults. But relocation, which some cities have advocated, does not work, he says.
“When you remove a coyote, others then come in to replace it. Also, coyotes are territorial animals. When you relocate a coyote to a new territory, you put it in danger from other coyotes who might not accept it because the territorial boundaries have been broken,” Strauss said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a lawsuit against the city of Arcadia last year after that city’s elected leaders created an ordinance that would allow problem coyotes to be trapped using neck and leg snares. Facing legal action and escalated opposition, the Arcadia City Council voted to rescind the ordinance.
PETA senior vice president Lisa Lange said her organization had “a ton of research indicating that lethal methods of wildlife control do not work.”
Glendora adopted a trapping program last year because of a coyote attack.
“The incident involved the resident walking their dog on a leash at about mid-morning," Glendora city manager Chris Jeffers said via email. "The dog, which was about 6 feet away from its owner, was about twice the size of the coyote itself. The incident happened within about a half mile of a public school and in an area frequented by children. The statements from witnesses showed no prior warning nor cause by the dog to alarm the coyote. The coyote was not scared by the repeated yelling and throwing of rocks by the dog’s owner.
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“So based on what we determined was the point where the coyote had no fear of humans, was in the mid-morning hours, known area for children to be walking daily and the proximity to schools, we made the decision to engage a professional trapper. The trapper did catch the coyote and it was handled within the requirements of state law.”
Strauss says the best way to coexist with coyotes is to keep them afraid of us and not feed them. “Coyotes are natural predators that don’t need our help to get food. They’re very successful at surviving,” he said.
Trying to “befriend” and feed the animals also can make them more vulnerable to nature. “While people think that are helping coyotes, what they are doing is signing their death warrant,” Strauss asserted.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles reassigned Dinh, its lone wildlife officer. So those who believe they are having problems with coyotes now are asked to call their nearest Animal Control Center.