There is no other wild, four-legged animal of any size or species that have had the explosive population increase across the North America as the Canis Latrans — the coyote.
This single predatory animal always has had a close association with the West and its deserts, sage lands, and mountains, often carried over into books, songs, and movies. The image of a lone coyote howling at the moon backdropped by tall cactus resides in all our minds.
I grew up listening to the howls, barks, and serenades of coyotes calling in the nighttime canyon just outside my bedroom window. To me, those calls were wild, eerie, and a bit dangerous. Yet, when dawn came, the little brush wolves had vanished as if into thin air. I never saw a single one.
In those times, the seldom-seen coyote was depicted as a harmless vagabond, a fumbler, a cartoon and movie character to be outfoxed by all his rivals, always on the losing end of any scheme, he could dream up. To wit, the famous and popular Wile E. Coyote comes to mind. That was, and often still is, the image in the minds of many Americans today.
However, that image is changing because the coyote is changing how and where it lives. That change also brings serious problems to this once largely ignored and unseen animal.
The first stunning indication of this change occurred in 1981, in Glendale, Calif. A 3-year-old girl named Kelly Keen was attacked by a coyote while she played in her family’s driveway. Her father rescued the girl and took her to the hospital, where she died due to blood loss and a broken neck.
People in the outdoor world could barely believe such an attack actually took place, and some wildlife experts assured everyone that coyotes do not kill people.
Without further fanfare or notice, the coyote began expanding from its traditional home in the West, moving farther east, south and north, and in growing numbers. Bird hunters and buck chasers were the first to notice the presence of coyotes in the hills, valleys, and river bottoms of their favorite hunting areas.
Arguments broke out about what, exactly, these strange new animals were. Game departments said there were no coyotes in some states, and hunters wondered if they were wild dogs, half-breeds, or even wolves.
When several animals were actually shot and tested, it was finally proven these new arrivals were, indeed, coyotes and nothing else.
Another big change was that these animals did not limit their travels and homes to wildlands. They began showing up in urban settings of all kinds and went even further. Newspapers and television news began reporting that coyotes had settled in and were living in the most amazing places.
A coyote was confirmed as living in New York’s Central Park, of all places. A recent study says that at least 2,000 coyotes are now living in the Chicago Metropolitan Area, some just outside of O’Hare International Airport.
In Clearwater, Fla., a pack of coyotes moved in and took over an abandoned mansion, and eventually patrolled the nearby streets in broad daylight. Owner’s cats and dogs were the preferred meal.
News of another fatal attack on a human hit the news like a thunderclap. In 2009, a 19-year-old woman named Taylor Mitchell was savagely attacked by a group of coyotes while she was hiking on the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Once again, experts came out of the woodwork to state that coyotes do not kill humans. But the list of attacks continued to grow.
In June 2010, a 3-year-old girl and 6-year-old girl were attacked and seriously injured in separate attacks by coyotes in Rye, N.Y. The 6-year-old was attacked by two coyotes, while the 3-year-old was attacked by a single animal.
During a three-month period between July and September 2011, three young children between the ages of 2 and 6 were bitten by a coyote in Broomfield, Colorado. All the attacks were thought to be by the same animal.
In January 2012, an 8-year-old girl living in Oakville, Ontario, was playing in her backyard when a single coyote jumped the fence and attacked her. The animal chased other children around the house until they got inside. The girl was bitten on the leg and treated at a local hospital for the bites.
On June 22, 2012, at Nehalem Bay State Park in coastal Oregon, a coyote attacked a 5-year-old girl following her family back from the beach through thick beach grass. Before her father could run the animal off, it succeeded in biting the girl on her ribcage, feet, and back.
On Sept. 21, 2012, a 16-year-old girl from New Waterford, Nova Scotia, was attacked by a coyote as she walked to school. She told authorities she heard growling coming from bushes as she passed and was hit from behind and knocked to the ground. A passing motorist stopped and helped run the animal off before it could inflict more damage.
The list goes on…
Assessing the attacks
In the 30 years leading up to March 2006, 160 attacks took place in the United States, mostly in southern California in Los Angeles County.
Records from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services plus the California Department of Fish and Game show that while 41 attacks occurred between 1988 and 1997, 48 attacks were verified between 1998 to 2003 — a clear escalation of encounters by bold coyotes with little or no fear of humans.
When we consider the rapid expansion of coyote numbers across the nation, it’s only natural for most people to assume that these attacks would be taking place in states with the largest wild areas and the smallest human populations, such as Montana, Wyoming or Nevada, but that is not the case. California leads all states, and by a huge margin.
In my opinion, the No. 1 reason for the increase in attacks is coyotes are allowed to live in close proximity to man without being removed. Equally troubling is that these very same coyotes are raising litters of young that accept humans as a natural part of their environments and small children as possible food sources. That is precisely what makes urban coyotes the danger they are.
To me, it’s clear that these animals lounging in backyard swimming pools, patrolling streets in broad daylight, and regularly dining on pet dogs and cats should be removed quickly once they develop these habits. Yet many people do not understand by allowing coyotes to live in populated areas, we’re playing with a potential time bomb just waiting to explode in another tragedy.
Fish and game departments can argue that they do not have the manpower to take on the task of removing hundreds, if not thousands, of urbanized coyotes, but other answers can be pursued. One obvious one is to call on trappers and predator hunters to do the job.
They have the gear, knowledge, experience, and desire to do exactly that. They are willing, able, and ready to do so with a little help from public agencies.
For our part, hunters and trappers can contact local offices of fish and game departments or even local police departments in areas where the greatest problems exist. Officials can point out the legal limits of where traps and firearms can and cannot be used.
For the hunters’ part, a switch from rifles to shotguns might be in order. For example, a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with heavy steel or lead shot suitable for large waterfowl, like geese, will consistently take coyotes out to 45 or 50 yards.
Another big plus for trappers and hunters is that coyotes that have grown up living around humans have little or no fear of the human sights, scents, and sounds that would send most coyotes running in the opposite direction. Simply stated, urbanized coyotes are the easiest of all animals to trap or call, and quickly too.
“Are coyotes killers?” I think that answer has been established as an unequivocal, “Yes.” It even begs a further question: If bears, wolves, or mountain lions begin moving into urban areas, will they too be tolerated as coyotes have been?
This is not as crazy as it sounds. In Big Bear Lake, California, black bears are regularly seen on the public golf course, sleeping in street culverts and lounging under the porches of homes there. They are not molested by patrols unless they become aggressive, but why wait for that to happen?
In my opinion, they have no business being allowed in areas where people live, play, and work. Wolves migrating from Yellowstone National Park now call Washington and Oregon home and have established packs there. They have also made their first forays into northern California. As their numbers grow, will they also find their way into the southern areas coyotes presently inhabit?
Will they, too, be allowed to roam the streets of suburbia?
Does all this sound too farfetched? It’s not, not by a long shot. If 20 years ago, someone would have said that coyotes would be allowed to roam the streets of Los Angeles County, eating dogs and cats and sometimes even attacking children, they would have been hooted off the stage. Yet all this has come to pass as urban coyote numbers grow. And that is why I say coyotes are killers just waiting to explode into the next headline.
Suggested prepping learning: