By Thomas K. Pendergast
Coyote season is here, that time of year between April and August when coyote sightings sometimes cause problems with humans and their pets, so Project Coyote is giving seminars about what to do when encountering the wild animals.
The wild carnivore breeds over the winter and gives birth to pups in the spring, then raises them throughout the summer months. While a natural fear of humans keeps them away most of the time, a perceived threat to their pups, such as when a dog or human gets too close to a den, can lead to confrontations.
Pets, like cats and small dogs, roaming around on their own without their owners, can be
tempting food sources for coyotes and their pups.
“If there’s a free-roaming animal, would it be a dog or a cat, and not a lot of coyotes look at dogs as food sources, but some are going to,” said Keli Hendricks, a ranching and wildlife coordinator for Project Coyote at a recent seminar held in the clubhouse at J.P. Murphy Playground. “You can’t predict which one might be taken if you have a free-roaming small dog. You know you really have to keep an eye on it if you’re in these areas where there might be wildlife because that could be a problem.”
Coyotes are native to the Bay Area but were mostly driven out in the early 1900s. According to Project Coyote, they came back to the Bay Area in the ’60s and were spotted in San Francisco by the early 2000s.
Although many of them appear to inhabit Golden Gate and Lincoln parks and the Presidio, coyote sightings have increased across the City, including this past December when one was spotted crossing a commercial rooftop in the South of Market Area (SOMA). Coyotes’ primary food source is rodents, like rats and mice, so they provide a benefit to humans by limiting the population of those pests. They will also go after feral cats, which helps keep that population in check.
Hendricks said the best method to avoid dogs getting grabbed when walking around areas known for coyotes is to simply keep them on a leash, as the coyotes are unlikely to attack a human and a dog at the same time.
She also recommended avoiding taking pets in those areas from dusk until dawn. However, if someone does see a coyote, they should blow a storm whistle, a loud warning signal, or use something else to make a sudden, loud noise. That should drive them away.
If, on the other hand, a particular coyote becomes a real problem eating pets, removing it from its habitat is a bit tricky, as in, easier said than done.
Virginia Donahue, executive director for San Francisco Animal Care and Control, described a recent case in the Balboa Terrace neighborhood, where a certain coyote was feasting frequently on local pets.
“I’ve had long conversations with the state of California, Fish and Wildlife,” Donahue said. “They will not come out and remove a coyote unless the coyote attacks a person or they consider it an imminent threat to life and safety.
“For example, in Balboa Terrace we’ve got one coyote that has eaten two cats and attacked two off-leash dogs. And we’ve done DNA testing so we know it’s that same coyote that has done all that,” she explained. “We’ve talked to Fish and Wildlife and they told us, ‘San Francisco can hire a trapper but we would not come out and do your trapping for you.’”
She said they contacted one trapper who was willing to trap and then release the animal in another location, however, the state of California requires trapped coyotes either be released as soon as possible or killed, leaving no time to do a DNA test to determine if they got the right coyote.
Another trapper said he would come out and start shooting the coyotes until they got the right one, but this was not considered a good idea either.
Hendricks advised against putting up snares because those traps are just as likely to get off-leash dogs or cats as a coyote.
Poison is also not an option because this can also be eaten by pets. Also, the chemicals in them tend to work their way up the food chain, which could affect other animals not being targeted.
Also, in urban areas the state requires that any trapping done in a certain area requires the permission of every resident living within 150 yards around the trapping area.
Animal experts say intentionally feeding coyotes is strictly forbidden, because it encourages the wild animals to lose their natural fear of humans and look upon humans as a food source instead. This diminishes their effectiveness as predators of rodents and other pests, and it increases the danger of violent confrontations between the animals and humans.