How to avoid a run-in with coyotes, which are interacting more with humans in the Bay Area
on December 3, 2021
Throwing rocks and shouting loudly are effective ways to be a good neighbor — to overconfident coyotes.
While the wild canines and humans have been sharing habitat for a very long time, a spate of incidents involving aggressive coyotes over the past year and a half has prompted a new educational campaign by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in partnership with local agencies in Contra Costa County. The program, called Wildlife Watch, relies on trained volunteers to spread awareness on how to react if faced with an unexpected coyote encounter.
A lot of people who come in close contact with a coyote reach for their cellphones to take a picture, said Capt. Patrick Foy of CDFW. “By all means, pick up a rock.”
Given the native canines’ highly adaptable nature, it’s not uncommon to spot a coyote in the woods or even in a backyard or park. If the animal is at a distance, it’s OK to stay calm and carry on — coyotes generally avoid human contact. If the coyote is too close for comfort, making loud noises will deter the animal from getting closer.
Beginning in July 2020, a coyote in the Moraga and Lafayette areas of Contra Costa County bit and scratched people, including two children, in five separate incidents. The animal was caught and euthanized in March, following a 24/7 operation by the Moraga Police Department and CDFW.
“Through DNA we were able to link [the attacks] to the same coyote,” said Lt. Brian South of the Moraga Police Department.
The repeatedly aggressive coyote, while an outlier, offered an example of how the wild canines are losing their natural wariness of humans. While coyotes are intelligent and able to successfully live in and near urban areas, “the vast majority of them are very fearful of humans,” Foy said.
Though CDFW does not keep data on coyote attacks on humans, Foy and other experts say they’ve observed an increase in those encounters in California in recent years.
That was backed up by researchers from California Polytechnic State and the University of California-Agriculture and Natural Resources, who documented coyote attacks on humans in the United States and Canada from 1977 to 2015. Of the 367 attacks recorded in that time span, nearly half occurred in California.
The researchers concluded that “urban and suburban coyote conflicts are continuing to increase” as the canines adapt to living near people.
One reason may stem from a basic need: food. Whether snatching a meal from a bowl of dog kibble left outside or eating food offered by unwitting humans, coyotes have learned to view people as a food source and have become comfortable approaching human environments.
Trent Pearce, a naturalist at the Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley, said he spots coyotes regularly, and harmlessly, about every three or four days in the park. The canines’ territory stretches along the eastern side of the East Bay, as far north as Wildcat Canyon and as far south as Grizzly Peak, and it’s common for them to venture into nearby neighborhoods. There has not been a problem in the park with coyotes approaching visitors, Peace said. And feeding wildlife there is forbidden.
“If they feel threatened, they’ll run away,” he said of a typical coyote encounter. “That’s a good thing.”
When a coyote attacks a person, it’s often a coyote that has previously obtained food from human sources, said Michelle Lute, a conservation scientist with the Bay Area-based nonprofit Project Coyote. Preventing coyotes from getting too familiar with people by removing tasty temptations like unsecured compost or birdfeeders reduces conflicts.
As predators, coyotes also play an important role in the food web, providing rodent control, increasing biodiversity and potentially reducing the transmission of diseases carried by prey populations like rats, Lute said.
Foy suggests that those venturing into parks or living in neighborhoods where coyotes are known to roam attach a storm whistle to a keychain or child’s backpack. The noisy deterrent offers a way for the species to coexist.
“We all need to figure out how to share the same slice of earth that we all live on,” he said.
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