Learning to Coexist With at Least 100 Coyotes in San Francisco

By Linda Badger

No one knows exactly how many coyotes are roaming the streets and parks of San Francisco. San Francisco Animal Care and Control estimates that there are approximately 100 coyotes in the City, although the number of sightings would suggest more.

Last year, iNaturalist.org, a wildlife tracking venture between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, recorded approximately 500 “research grade” observations of coyotes in San Francisco, more than half of which were in Golden Gate Park.

A sign in Golden Gate Park’s Botanical Garden advises visitors to “Walk. DO NOT RUN” if they encounter a coyote. Coyotes likely present a greater threat to pets than to people. Photo by Linda Badger.

For many decades, these California natives were nowhere to be seen in the City. In 2002, however, experts believe coyotes from Marin County somehow crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to “recolonize” San Francisco. There is anecdotal evidence that a trapper (illegally) drove coyotes across the bridge and released them in the Presidio. Ever since, coyotes have made themselves at home, thriving in neighborhoods across the City. Amid reports of San Franciscans abandoning the City in droves, this highly intelligent, adaptable native appears to be here to stay, enjoying our many green spaces, rodents, abundant trash offerings and, sadly, sometimes pets.

The California Department of Fish and Game, SF Animal Care and Control, SF Recreation and Park Department and the Presidio Trust have all worked to develop strategies to reduce conflicts between coyotes and humans. Experts stress that coyotes rarely harm humans, with fewer than 20 coyote bites reported across North America annually. By contrast, dog bites reportedly send 1,000 people a day to emergency rooms for treatment.

Coyotes are also beneficial to our ecosystem, eating rats and other rodents that spread disease. Weighing such benefits with the imperative of public safety, city and state officials have developed several strategies to promote peaceful coexistence with urban coyotes, focused on managing human behavior.

First, officials are educating the public to stop feeding coyotes. Aside from being illegal, feeding coyotes causes them to lose their natural fear of people, making it more likely that coyotes will approach us, perhaps aggressively. It is also important that people stop attracting coyotes into their neighborhoods by leaving pet food, fallen fruit or garbage outside for coyotes, or their preferred prey, rodents, to eat.

Second, officials are educating the public that if they encounter a coyote, avoid it. Walk (don’t run) away from the coyote – they are very territorial and are likely to be satisfied to see you leave. Note that although dogs and coyotes are relatives (or maybe because of this), they do not get along. Keep your dog on a leash, and walk away, picking up small dogs or dragging the larger ones, if necessary, to satisfy the coyote that you are leaving. The coyote may even follow you and your dog, “escorting” you out of its territory. Officials also advise “hazing” the coyote to scare it away. Hazing can include a range of unfriendly human behavior, from yelling and waving your arms to using whistles or throwing objects towards (not at) the coyote.

Third, park officials are placing signs or limiting access to areas where coyotes have been observed. Be sure not to walk your dog in an area cordoned off due to coyote “pupping” season. Coyotes aggressively defend their dens, especially if a dog is nearby.

Coyotes exhibiting aggressive behavior can also be trapped. California law prohibits them from being relocated, so this is a lethal option. In 2021, federal wildlife officials targeted and killed a coyote that was repeatedly charging toddlers in the Botanical Garden. Some cities routinely trap and kill coyotes. In San Francisco, killing coyotes is a measure of last resort, and only aggressive individuals are targeted.

According to Dr. Jonathon Young, an ecologist with the Presidio Trust, non-lethal strategies have proved successful in reducing conflicts in the Presidio.

Coyotes likely present a greater threat to our pets than to ourselves. In a three-year period, Culver City recorded that 83 cats were killed by coyotes. Dr. Niamh Quinn, a University of California scientist, conducted a study of coyotes’ stomach contents in Southern California and found evidence that 35% of the coyotes tested had consumed some cat. No data was available on dogs because of the similarity between dog and coyote DNA. The logical solution is to keep cats indoors, keeping them safe from coyotes. Dogs should be kept on a leash. As a reminder, it is illegal to have a dog off leash in Golden Gate Park, except in specified dog play areas.

If you see a coyote behaving aggressively, report it to SF Animal Care and Control at 415-554-9400 or online at ACC@sfgov.org. Also, to add to coyote database observations, go to iNaturalist.org. Sightings in the Presidio should be reported to coyote@presidiotrust.org.

1 reply »

  1. All the conflicts with coyotes that have occurred in SF involved one of the following 1) a coyote being fed, 2) an off leash small dog or 3) a free roaming cat. This leads to the obvious conclusion that the conflicts we’ve experienced are CREATED BY HUMANS. The Presidio has an excellent coyote management plan in place that focuses on preventing conflicts with dogs.
    For information on urban coyote behavior, you can check out the Presidio Trust Coyote study.


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