Coyotes & Safety Precautions For Your Pet:
Living on the Sammamish Plateau, many of us
have either experienced or know someone who has has felt the pain of losing a
beloved pet to a resident coyote. Clearly, the violent nature of losing one's
cat or small dog is difficult, to say the least. The following is an excerpt from
the Washington Department of Fish &
Wildlife called "Living With Wildlife in Washington State", and provides
some valuable information on preventing future losses. We hope you
find this information useful.
- The Plateaulife.com Staff
Living With Coyotes
At least 50,000 coyotes are estimated to live in Washington. These highly intelligent and adaptable animals manage to eke out an existence nearly everywhere, from the open ranch country of the state's eastside to downtown Seattle's waterfront. Despite ever-increasing human encroachment, and even past efforts to eliminate coyotes outright, the species not only maintains its numbers but is probably increasing in some areas.
The coyote's tenacity tries some people's patience and inspires others' admiration.
At first glance, the coyote looks like a small German shepherd dog. But its color varies individually in shades of black, brown, gray, yellow, and white. It also has a shorter, bushier tail that it carries low, and a longer, narrower muzzle. Coyotes range in size from about 20 to 50 pounds. Coyotes and dogs are related. The scientific name for coyote is Canis latrans. All breeds of domestic dog are Canis familiaris. Coyotes are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and vegetation. Fruits and berries are eaten during summer and fall. Carrion of large animals like deer is important in winter. They also eat grass, insects, reptiles and amphibians, fish, birds, and small mammals. Their diet is mostly wild species, but in some areas it can include domestic livestock or pets. In urban areas they have been known to eat pet food, garbage or garden crops. Like many wild animals, coyotes tend to be most active at dawn, dusk, and at night. They often spend the day in their dens, which can be remodeled badger, skunk, or fox holes, or just the underside of a rocky ledge. But it is not uncommon to see coyotes throughout the day. Their home range can be as large as 10 to 12 square miles. Coyotes are usually lone animals, living with their offspring only part of the year. Mating of lifetime pairs occurs in late winter. Litters of three to 10 pups are usually born in April. The family breaks up by late summer or early fall and the young hunt alone until late winter when they are ready to pair. Coyotes can live up to 10 years in the wild. Coyotes are sometimes called "song dogs" because of their distinctive yapping, howling, and barking. These vocalizations are believed to be ways of communicating about territories, mates, or families. Young pups are often heard in summer, trying out their voices.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife does not classify the coyote as a game animal, but a state hunting license is required to hunt them. There is no coyote tag nor bag limit, however.
The coyote hunting season is open statewide year round, with two exceptions: 1) if hounds are used to hunt coyotes, the season runs from early September through mid-March (check current regulations pamphlet for dates); and 2) an area in north-central Washington, including the Pasayten Wilderness and within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, Okanogan, and Wenatchee National Forests, (check regulations pamphlet for exact description), is closed from mid-September through November to protect the endangered gray wolf from being accidentally shot.
People and Coyotes
Seeing or hearing coyotes from a distance can be an enjoyable reminder that we share our world with wildlife. Seeing or hearing coyotes right in your yard can be a problem. It's also an indication that with urban sprawl and other habitat changes, these opportunistic animals have learned that human food, garbage, pets, and livestock can provide them the basics for survival. Pet cats and small dogs have been killed and eaten by coyotes in Washington. WDFW just recently started keeping records of reported incidents, and so far the rate is increasing with our human and pet population. Coyote attacks on humans are so rare in Washington that none have actually been documented to date. Prior to 1981, coyote attacks on humans throughout North America also seemed to be rare. But in 1990, 56 coyote-related human health and safety incidents nationally were reported to USDA. From 1988 to 1997 in the west's most densely populated area -- southern California -- 53 coyote attacks on humans, resulting in 21 injuries, were documented by a University of California wildlife extension specialist; a study of those incidents indicates that attacks on pets may be a predictive precursor to more serious coyote-human conflicts, and that human behavior may be contributing to the problem. Other research in national parks suggests that coyote attacks are related to coyotes losing their fear of humans once they associate them with food.
Dealing with conflicts
There are several ways that homeowners can discourage coyotes from making pests of themselves or becoming serious threats:
Keep garbage securely stored, especially if it has to be put on the curb for collection; use tight-locking or bungee-cord-wrapped trash cans that are not easily opened if knocked over by coyotes or dogs.
Keep compost piles securely covered; correct composting never includes animal matter, like bones or fat, which can draw coyotes even more quickly that decomposing vegetable matter.
More ways to deal with coyote conflicts:
Keep pet food and water inside.
Keep pets inside or confined securely in a kennel or covered exercise yard.
Do not feed wildlife on the ground; keep wild bird seed in feeders designed for birds, elevated or hanging above ground, and clean up spilled seed from the ground; coyotes can either be drawn directly to the seed, or to the rodents drawn to the seed.
Keep fruit trees fenced or pick up fruit that falls to the ground.
Do not feed feral (domestics gone wild) cats; coyotes prey on the cats, as well as feed on cat food left out for them.
Minimize ground cover vegetation near children's play areas to avoid attracting rodents and small mammals that will in turn attract coyotes; keep clusters of shrubs, trees and other cover and food plants away from buildings and children's play areas.
Use noise-making and other scaring devices when coyotes are seen. Check with local authorities regarding noise and weapons ordinances. Portable air horns, motor vehicle horns, propane cannons, starter pistols, low-powered pellet guns, slingshots, and rocks can be effective.
Be assertive in your attitude and behavior towards coyotes that are not showing normal, healthy fear and respect towards you and others.
If all else fails...
If all efforts to dissuade problem coyotes fail, and they continue to be a nuisance or human safety concern, coyotes may have to be trapped and humanely euthanized. Suburban coyote trapping and euthanizing in more densely-populated southern California has proven to not only remove an individual problem animal, but to also modify the behavior of the local coyote population. By removing a few coyotes, fear of humans and urban areas may be reinstated for several years. Elimination of whole coyote populations is not necessary nor logistically possible. (Relocating trapped coyotes is not biologically sound nor humane. There also may be legal liabilities to releasing problem coyotes to a place where they may continue to be a hazard to human safety.) If Washington homeowners take steps now to discourage coyotes from ever becoming a threat to human safety, such drastic measures might be avoided.
Coyote behavior is based on instinctual programming for survival that is centuries old. As intelligent beings, individual coyotes can learn new ways to obtain the food, water, and shelter they need to survive. But coyote needs aren't going to change. However, human "needs" to set garbage on the curb, leave dog food outside, or put the cat out at night, can and should be re-examined. If humans want to peacefully coexist with these fascinating wild animals, it's up to humans to change.