Coyotes: Coexisting Is The Only Option
Last autumn the village manager and police chief of a Chicago suburb began receiving more and more reports of coyotes roaming through neighborhoods, including a few reports of coyotes attacking small dogs (Graham, Grayslake hiring trappers to remove coyotes, 2017). In response, the police chief announced on the village’s Facebook page that the department planned to hire trappers “to control and/or curb the area coyote population.” Six days later he abandoned the plan because, in his words, “When I posted that very first Facebook post, I didn’t know anything about coyotes. All I knew was that I needed to call a trapper to see if there was anything they could do. The thought of humanely trapping the coyotes and humanely relocating them was a possibility in my head.”
After speaking with wildlife experts, however, the police chief learned that trapping and removing coyotes isn’t effective because other coyotes simply move in. “There is no eliminating the problem; there’s only coexisting,” he concluded (Graham, Grayslake abandoning plans to trap coyotes, 2017).
Coyotes are top terrestrial predators in the U.S., and they are ubiquitous no matter where you live. Over the past 200 years, their territory range has expanded from the Great Plains to include Alaska, Canada, the contiguous United States, Mexico, and Central America (Gompper, 2002). They have colonized rural landscapes, suburbs, and even urban centers, where they’ve adapted to life with humans. They’ve learned that our communities provide food, water, and shelter to survive—but not without conflict.
Conflicts With People and Pets
If they never see them, people may not realize they’re living among coyotes. Coyotes are naturally wary of humans, but they can lose their fear. They become “nuisance” animals when they hang around human spaces they associate with food, particularly places where people intentionally or unintentionally feed wildlife (Urban Coyote Research, 2017). In suburban areas, coyotes can find rodents, outdoor pet food, household refuse, and amenable landscapes with ponds for water. Some prey on cats and small dogs. They start to feel safe in humans’ resource-rich environments. And—though coyote attacks on people are relatively rare—bold coyotes may act aggressively toward humans. Besides hunger, coyotes can be motivated to attack when their dens are threatened. And if children or dogs run away from them, they will chase them (Timm, Baker, Bennett, & Coolahan, 2004).
Conflicts With Farmed Animals
Federal, state, and local governments and private individuals kill hundreds of thousands of coyotes annually, mostly for the benefit of farmed animal producers (Fox & Papouchis, 2005). In 2016, USDA APHIS Wildlife Services killed 76,963 coyotes—over 99 percent being intentional kills. About one-third of coyotes were killed via aerial hunting (Wildlife Services USDA APHIS, 2016).
Coyote Conflict Management Plans That Don’t Work
Over 99 percent of trapped coyotes are caught in inhumane leghold traps. As they struggle frantically to free themselves, they often endure broken bones, ripped tendons, painful swelling, amputation, and mouth trauma from biting the trap. They can die from infection, starvation, or an attack from predators. Further, each year millions of non-target animals (pets, farmed animals, bald eagles, and other wildlife) are caught and die in traps set for coyotes and other animals (Fox & Papouchis, Cull of the Wild, 2004).
Coyote researchers in Chicago found that relocated coyotes didn’t remain at their release sites. In fact, they traveled back toward their homeland. No coyotes made it home, however, because they were killed by cars or hunters after leaving their release sites. Also, coyotes are tremendously territorial, so a lone coyote traveling through another’s territory will likely be attacked—and lose—in a territory dispute (Urban Coyote Research, 2017). Although relocation can be a death sentence for coyotes, some communities still elect to use this method because it seems kinder to the general public than killing (Urban Coyote Research, 2017).
In most states, coyotes are still classified as unprotected species, predatory mammals, or vermin, which deprives them of regulatory oversight and protection in terms of hunting seasons or bag limits. Hunters, trappers, and ranchers can kill an unlimited number of coyotes by any method they choose and at any time they choose. Body-count contests are popular in many states (Fox & Papouchis, Coyotes in Our Midst, 2005).
Coyote populations come back even stronger when they are killed in the name of predator management. The most resilient coyotes survive and reproduce (Fox & Papouchis, Coyotes in Our Midst, 2005). Aggressively killing coyotes causes remaining pack members to disperse, and in the absence of pack hierarchy, there are more matings between pack members who would not ordinarily reproduce. First-generation pups born into these situations are more likely to survive because there is reduced competition for food. Coyote numbers increase again, quickly recolonizing the territory.
Killing coyotes isn’t necessary to protect farmed animals. The USDA has developed effective nonlethal methods such as the use of birthing sheds, fence enhancements, strobe lights, guard animals, and sound- and smell-aversive tools (APHIS Wildlife Services, 2002). Yet, Wildlife Services continues to kill these resilient carnivores in disturbingly high numbers.
Coyote Conflict Management Plans That Do Work
A two-part plan consisting of public education and hazing appears to effectively resolve coyote conflicts. Essentially, the behavior of both people and coyotes must change (White & Delaup, 2012).
Coyotes are attracted to areas where people live because they provide food, water, and shelter. Thus, people can discourage the habituation of coyotes to their environments by following these guidelines:
- Never deliberately—or inadvertently—feed coyotes. If pets must be fed outdoors, remove the bowls as soon as they are finished.
- Never leave dogs unattended in a fenced yard unless the fence is “coyote proof,” and keep cats indoors. If you take your cats outdoors, keep them within secure enclosures like catios.
- Use guard animals (e.g., dogs, llamas, or burros) in agricultural areas.
- Keep property well-lit at night. Install motion-sensor lights, strobe lights, and sprinklers as deterrents.
- Close off crawl spaces and decks, trim hedges, and clear away brush.
- Implement leash laws and anti-feeding ordinances. (White & Delaup, 2012) (Humane Society of the United States, 2015)
Coyote hazing is an aversive-conditioning method that re-introduces the natural fear of humans back into habituated coyotes. Coyotes learn (or re-learn) that humans are a source of danger and should be avoided. Usually only a few hazing sessions are necessary to effectively deter a coyote or coyote family, but some level of hazing must be maintained to prevent re-habituation (White & Delaup, 2012). For hazing to work, it must be accompanied by human behavior changes like those mentioned above.
Hazing dos and don’ts:
- Run towards the coyote waving your arms and yelling to make yourself appear large and threatening. Never run away from—and never corner—a coyote.
- Make loud noises using whistles, walking sticks, megaphones, pots, pans, air horns, or starter pistols. Mix up noise-making techniques so coyotes can’t anticipate them.
- Shine bright lights at the coyote.
- Shoot water in the direction of the coyote using a hose or water gun.
- Make eye contact, and don’t hide. Coyotes must recognize that the threat is coming from a human. Keep hazing until the coyote leaves the area.
- Small children should not haze. Put yourself in front of a threatened child, redirecting the coyote’s attention to you as you haze.
- Never haze a sick or injured coyote; instead, call the police or animal control.
(White & Delaup, 2012) (Humane Society of the United States, 2015)
Hazing may not work with especially bold and aggressive coyotes. In those cases, removal of the animal by trained professionals such as animal control officers, police officers, or wildlife experts may be the only solution (Timm, Baker, Bennett, & Coolahan, 2004).
The Example of Denver
Denver has been quite successful in decreasing human-coyote conflicts since the city’s Parks and Recreation department introduced the Coyote Management Plan in 2009. The plan consists mostly of public education and hazing tactics. Upon implementing the plan, coyote sightings and encounters decreased by more than 75 percent. Pet attacks also decreased (White & Delaup, 2012). By February 2016, however, coyote conflicts in Denver increased (Brasch, 2016). A team of researchers started the Denver Coyote Project to study resident coyotes for at least the next three years. By studying their behavior, genes, and hormones, the researchers hope to find out why aggressive coyotes appear in urban areas and how they differ from those in rural populations.
The researchers all agree that people will have to continue to adapt their behaviors and attitudes about coyotes. According to Mary Ann Bonnell, project partner and ranger for Jefferson County Open Space, “Coyotes are here to stay; people are here to stay. What I would love as an educator at heart is to convince people that this is the new normal” (Brasch, 2016).
APHIS Wildlife Services. (2002, April). Urban and Suburban Coyotes.
Brasch, S. (2016, February 26). Coyote Conflicts Have Increased in Denver. Researchers Want to Know Why.
Cove, M. V., Pardo, L. E., Spinola, R. M., Jackson, V. L., & Saenz, J. C. (2012). Coyote Canis latrans (Carnivora: Canidae) range extension in northeastern Costa Rica: possible explanations and consequences.
Fox, C. H., & Papouchis, C. M. (2004). Cull of the Wild.
Fox, C. H., & Papouchis, C. M. (2005). Coyotes in Our Midst.
Graham, D. T. (2017, October 31). Grayslake abandoning plans to trap coyotes.
Graham, D. T. (2017, October 25). Grayslake hiring trappers to remove coyotes.
Humane Society of the United States. (2015). Coyote Management and Coexistence Plan.
Timm, R. M., Baker, R. O., Bennett, J. R., & Coolahan, C. C. (2004). Coyote Attacks: An Increasing Suburban Problem.
Urban Coyote Research. (2017, December 4). About Coyotes; Urban coyote ecology and management, Cook County, Illinois.
White, L. A., & Delaup, A. C. (2012). A New Technique in Coyote Conflict Management: Changing Coyote Behavior through Hazing in Denver, Colorado.
Wildlife Services USDA APHIS. (2016, December 31). USDA APHIS. Retrieved from Program Data Report G – 2016; Animals Dispersed/Killed or Euthanized/Removed or Destroyed/Freed.