by James A. Swan, Ph.D. - Sunday, June 3, 2018
On March 14, a 5-year-old boy was walking with his father on the campus of California State University-Los Angeles when a coyote came up and bit the boy on the leg. The boy was taken to the hospital for a rabies shot. Later on the same campus, a woman was approached by a coyote. As the coyote fled, howls from other coyotes nearby were reported. Since then, more coyote sightings have been reported on the campus. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) plans to use a mix of professional trappers setting traps, armed game wardens and electronic calls that mimic the sound of an injured rabbit to draw in the coyotes and euthanize them.
Not far from that incident, CDFW game wardens reported a coyote attack in late 2017 on a 5-year-old girl. The girl had sustained bites to her head and neck and scratches on her back. USDA Wildlife Services assisted in the response efforts. A female coyote was captured and euthanized. Forensic evidence from the attack scene matched the euthanized animal, confirming the coyote was the same one responsible for other attacks on area pets.
These two incidents are examples of an increasing problem in Los Angeles County, Calif., as coyotes expand into urban areas. Since 2011 coyote bites reported to CDFW in Los Angeles and Orange counties include: two in 2011, three in 2012, one in 2013, four in 2014, 15 in 2015, 16 in 2016 and five in 2017 with several attacks already reported for 2018. According to CDFW, the state’s only reported coyote-caused fatality occurred in 1981.
Coyote attacks are nothing new. According to University of California-Davis professor Robert Timm, Director of the Hopland Research and Extension Center, and his colleagues: “… between 1998 and 2004, we listed 89 coyote attacks in California when one or more coyotes made physical contact with a child or adult, or attacked a pet while in close proximity to its owner.” In 56 of these attacks, one or more persons were injured. In 77 additional encounters, coyotes stalked children, chased individuals or aggressively threatened adults.
When the first European settlers explored the United States, they didn’t see coyotes until they crossed the Mississippi and reached the western plains. There were plenty of wild game for coyotes to live on in the Great Plains, but wolf packs preyed on coyotes. Lewis and Clark never saw a coyote until they got to the middle Missouri River in present-day South Dakota in the fall of 1804, and they thought it was a new kind of fox.
Settlers ultimately began killing the wolves that attacked their livestock, coyotes bred quickly and had a more varied diet. As wolves disappeared, the coyote population spread eastward. That inspired a campaign to eradicate coyotes by shooting and poisoning them. In 1931, Congress passed a bill to spend $10 million eradicating both wolves and coyotes with poisons and sharpshooters. Between 1947 and 1956, Wildlife Services in the Department of Agriculture killed approximately 6.5 million coyotes. By 1970, attitudes toward poisoning coyotes changed, and Present Richard Nixon ordered that no more poisons be used on public lands.
While wolves have made a comeback, all of North America except for Hawaii has coyotes—and their numbers are increasing. Current population estimates are as much as 100 million. And as I pointed out in another NRAHLF.org article, they now are breeding with feral dogs and wolves resulting in hybrid animals that are larger and have less fear of man.
While it’s open season on coyotes on rangeland year round, today coyotes are found in nearly all urban areas nationwide. No wonder coyote attacks on humans are increasing. In addition to Los Angeles, Hollywood and Irvine, Calif., there have been coyote sightings in numerous other cities including Denver, St. Louis, Chicago and Seattle, all of which report over 100 sightings a year. You can also find them in New York City, but by far the most urban coyote sightings and attacks have been in Southern California.
Coyotes’ unprecedented population growth has created controversy and inspired a range of opinions. Animal rights extremists say, “Don’t hurt the poor coyotes, we can co-exist,” while ranchers, for example, say to kill them on sight.
Coyotes span from coast to coast and from Central America to the Arctic Ocean. Their diet is 90 percent meat. They kill and eat wild prey and livestock, scavenge the kills of other predators and dine on roadkill, trash and any food left outside for pets—as well as the pets. An adult male weighs 20 to 50 pounds.
Coyotes hunt for food based on odors and sight. In an urban neighborhoods where people are cooking outdoors, food odors can attract them. Habituated coyotes may approach people with little or no fear.
When they are hunting, coyotes often howl. When area dogs respond, coyotes may attack and kill them.
Coyotes are ready to mate at 20 to 22 months old. Females have a gestation period of 63 days and give birth to as many as 12 pups. In the wild, coyotes can live around 10 years. In urban areas they can live longer.
Coyotes and Deer
There are 30 million whitetails nationwide, but coyotes now outnumber deer. As coyote populations increase in eastern states, deer populations decrease.
The five states with the largest declines in fawn recruitment from 2005 to 2015 were Illinois, Maine, Wisconsin, Maryland and South Carolina—all states with increasing coyote populations. An Ohio study recently showed that bowhunters saw three times the coyotes in 2011 as compared to in the 1990s. That state is also experiencing declining fawn recruitment rates.
According to the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), the reported U.S. deer harvest in 2000 was 7,351,866. That number dropped to 5,969,180 in 2014, which correlates with the increasing population of coyotes over the last 15 years. Some research finds that increasing coyote populations in states where there are whitetail deer is definitely resulting in decreasing deer populations.
A Search for Solutions
Kip Adams, a QDMA biologist, explains, “Research shows you have to remove about 75 percent of a coyote population annually to cause it to decline (because they recruit so many pups annually).” Given the necessary removal rate, he says hunting is not an effective method of reducing populations, particularly in the East, because you can’t kill enough to make a difference.
Animal rights extremists want to prevent killing coyotes. They offer good advice about protecting your pets and securing garbage, but that’s just scratching the surface as neighborhood coyotes lose their fear of people. About 400,000 coyotes are killed each year—over 1,000 a day—and the population is still increasing.
The USDA Wildlife Services sends helicopters with snipers to fly over coyote habitats and kill as many as possible. An airborne gunner working for the USDA may kill as many as 100 coyotes a day. The government kills at least 80,000 coyotes annually at a cost of $20 million. As for the other 320,000 annual coyote deaths, many are killed in killing contests across the United States as well as by hunters. Killing contests upset some people. In New Mexico, for example, there is legislation in process to ban such contests. The interesting question about opposing contests is whether people don’t like killing any animal, or that killing contests are held. In New Mexico coyotes are considered unprotected furbearers and nongame species so residents don’t need a hunting license to hunt them.
However, Eric Gese of the USDA’s Wildlife Services Research Center underscores my earlier point. In a seven-year study of coyote populations, he found that coyote culling by hunting alone is not enough. Trapping, Gese says, is likely to have more positive results.Urban Coyotes in Your Area?
E-mail your comments/questions about this site to: