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article imageCoyotes that dwell near urban areas must 'stay wild' say officers Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Sep 9, 2011 in Environment
San Francisco - The Coyote is among the abundant wild life of the American West, especially here in California. There are many iconic images and stories about the coyote in legend and folklore of the West.
But when coyotes go foraging into urban neighborhoods were humans dwell the consequences can become tragic. Over 50 people showed up at a community meeting held at the Richmond Neighborhood Center sponsored by the State of California Department of Fish and Game and State Assembly member Fiona Ma.
At that morning informational meeting this past August, officials from State of California Dept. of Fish & Game, and Assemblywoman Ma's office stressed the importance of "keeping wild animals wild." They wanted to inform the public that when humans make deliberate contact with wild animals it causes more problems.
J Doug Huckins is Assistant Chief for the North Coast District of the CA Dept. of Fish & Game. He told this reporter that, "we are doing outreach and education to the public about wild animal behavior and habitat patterns so that people will know what to do and what not to do when they see a wild animal. One thing most important, said Huckins, is not to offer food to a wild animal.
Huckins noted that it is not unusual for people to see wild life, even in an urban area. Yet to interact with wild life creates a nuisances which then alters the natural patterns wild life like coyotes follow. "Fiona's office contacted us," he said and thought it would be a good idea to have an informative meeting. Another meeting was scheduled for later that afternoon at Susan B Anthony Elementary School in Daly City.
In her job as a member of the California State Assembly, Ma's constituency is extensive. "I got a lot of calls from Southern California area from people who told me that coyotes are a problem," she said. So, I worked with my staff to do some research and we discovered that this is a frequent and on going problem," said Ma.
Part of the problem is that there is not enough help available to manage the situations that occur when humans meet up with coyotes or other wild life. Ma noted that because of budget setbacks due to the economic recession, officers and various patrols are not readily available. So they are hoping that by educating the public more through outreach, situations can be resolved before they go too far.
"As it is now, the protocol is that wildlife officials or a division or department like Animal Care & Control will only step in if the coyote is hurt or it has hurt humans or is showing aggression towards humans," she said. "Other than that, like if property is damaged or the pet dog, or cat is eaten or harmed, there is not much that these agencies and departments will do," said Ma.
Even Emergency calls to 911 will be transferred to Animal Care or Wildlife Services and they will asses the situation over the phone, only to reiterate the protocol. No patrol or wildlife officer will arrive unless the situation is harming humans or the wild animal is injured.
This might seem a bit aloof on the part of Dept. of Fish & Game or the City's Animal Care and Control unit. But Ma emphasized that is the way it is now. And, so people must understand what to do when they see wildlife.
I have seen coyotes even along some of the streets in Sea Cliff," said Patricia Kaussen, Director of the Richmond Neighborhood Center. She was very pleased that the turn out at the meeting was standing room only, "this is fantastic," she said. She is eager to help the Dept. of Fish & Game make it clear, wild life is to be kept wild. And, in an ever encroaching urban space upon the outlying areas of hills and parks this message is very important for people to understand and respect.
Kaussen mentioned that it is customary for coyotes to nestle in the forests and meadows within the Presidio, parts where humans do not frequent much. "They are naturally shy when they see us humans," Kaussen said. She mentioned that she has also seen Coyotes near the golf course at Lincoln Park near the California Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum. Parts of that area has open space covered by trees and foliage.
"I have gotten reports of coyotes in Glen Park (which also has trees and foliage) and when the signs in the park say "stay on trails and keep dog on leash" then that is what residents must do," said Ma. "An injured or eaten pet is not a top priority call, yet if a wild animal is a threat to people then officials will act," she said.
Environmental Biologist Conrad Jones of the CA Dept. of Fish & Game talked to the audience at the meeting. He also talked to this reporter after the meeting saying that Coyotes get mange and canine distemper. This is a concern because mange and distemper can be transmitted to the family dog. Like Chief Huckins, he emphasized the importance of not feeding or encouraging coyotes or any other wild life to hang around the urban neighborhood.
"People should not interact with the animals, avoid approaching them," he said. "It is best to make the coyote and other wild animals not to feel welcome," scare them away," he said. This might seem cruel but actually it is a kindness that residents are doing. Because as Jones pointed out, wild animals are intended to be wild.
Wild animals must forage for food on their own with out help from humans. When humans interact and treat wild animals like pets, they become dependent upon humans for food and shelter, noted Jones. This causes an imbalance in the natural cycle. Coyotes have a role to play in the wild. When humans tame them, it upsets that balance in nature.
Jones also said that coyotes are very adaptable to the wild. "They are omnivores, will eat just about anything. But they are also opportunistic and are predators. Coyotes can become aggressive, he said.
In California the mating season for coyotes is from January to March. Coyote yearlings often stay with their parents and help care for pups. Their diet while omnivorous is mostly animal protein consisting of mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits and gophers. Coyotes also eat insects, birds - their eggs, small reptiles and some vegetation.
When in areas where humans dwell, coyotes will eat what humans leave out, such as food scraps and garbage. They will also attack and eat farm animals such as sheep, deer, etc. And, yes they will go after pets, such as dogs and cats.
This is why Wildlife Services officials want people to know and follow some simple rules when encountering wildlife. Leave them be if they are simply wandering through the neighborhood trying to return to their den or habitat that is away from humans such as outlaying areas like hills, forests, meadows not settled by humans. If they linger, scare them away. Coyotes are naturally fearful of humans. Respect their shyness and admire them from afar. But do not encourage them to come closer. And, again do not feed them or leave items around that attract them or other animals that they feed on such as mice, rats, etc.
If a coyote is seen and it is hurt or wounded call authorities. But do not approach the animal. Let trained officials and personnel attend to the wounded animal. For more information contact the wildlife officials in your area.
More about Coyotes, State of California Department of Fish and Game, Fiona Ma, Wild, California
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