Managing Urban Coyotes: False Advertising about Hazing and Habituation Can Lead To A Coyote’s Death Sentence

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Managing Coyotes:

Most cities seem to leave it to individuals — not even larger neighborhood groups — to trap and kill coyotes as they see fit. Folks have long been taught that killing them is the way to manage them, even though it has been proven that this results in higher and younger populations, and fewer stable families to keep other coyotes away. In some places a permit might be required at certain times of the year, but usually not, and sometimes a reason is required to get the permit — including that the coyote was a “nuisance”. In one community, coyote yipping sounds were deemed a “nuisance”. These protocols seem to be the norm. There is no education behind them.

Few cities have actual written “coyote management plans”, such as the plans in Vancouver and Denver. More cities have informational websites offering the standard guidelines and explaining that killing coyotes doesn’t work — again, folks are free to trap and kill if they want to in these communities.

Here in San Francisco trapping and killing are not permitted, but we do not have a written coyote management plan per se, because it was deemed unnecessary. A coyote organization attempted to push its plan through in San Francisco — a plan that included extensive hazing — which the San Francisco Animal Commission wisely turned down. Coyotes do not need to be “hazed” whenever they’re seen — it can be counterproductive. See below.

What works here in San Francisco is educating the public about coyotes and their behavior and giving folks guidelines which will prevent conflicts and other issues.  I’ve helped convert many folks to a positive mindset just by telling them a little about coyote family life and iterating the guidelines with some one-on-one help on shooing them off. Coyotes do not approach people unless taught to do so with food, so feeding of coyotes is forbidden, and folks are taught not to leave food attractants out in their yards. As everyone should know, pets are the main issue of concern, but this is an issue which can be easily managed by not allowing pets to roam free, and by keeping dogs leashed in coyote areas. Basically, what the authorities have been saying here in San Francisco is, that if a dog is bitten by a coyote because the dog was not leashed, or if a cat is taken because it was allowed to roam free, it’s really the owner’s fault and could have been prevented by following the guidelines — please take better care of your pet. This protocol is the only way to make coexistence work: it’s easy, it’s effective, it’s responsible, and the burden of responsibility is on the pet owner to guard his/her pets.

Habituation and Hazing:

I would like to add something here. . . . In my opinion, some of the “expert” information out there is counterproductive and remiss — it’s actually hurting coyotes and increasing fears in humans. For instance, “hazing” — mostly noise and erratic movement such as arm waving — is promoted as a cure-all which will cause coyotes to flee. But as I’ve seen here in San Francisco, and as we’ve seen in several cities which have now returned to trapping, for example in Seal Beach in Southern California, coyotes can get used to this and begin responding to it more slowly or even ignoring it. The big problem then is what this does to people’s perceptions about coyotes: folks are under the impression that if a coyote doesn’t flee quickly when hazed, that it is therefore “habituated” and that it now poses a danger to the community. This is not so. Folks have been taught that a “habituated” animal is a dangerous one. This, also, is not true. Because of what has been taught incorrectly about habituation, folks feel that if they simply see a coyote, or if it doesn’t flee quickly upon seeing a person, it must be habituated, or on its way to becoming habituated, and, therefore, to becoming dangerous. Where does this come from? There is no science at all behind it. Telling folks this is increasing their fears. So teaching that “hazing” is a solution has actually backfired.

Coyote Behavior:

We all need to become aware of coyote behaviors so that we can know how to prevent issues. Yes, coyotes don’t like canine intruders in their territories: they even don’t allow non-family coyotes in. All canines, be they wolves, dogs, foxes or coyotes, don’t really like each other and all will exclude the others, as well as members of their same species who are non-family members, from their territories. This is instinctive behavior. We can’t really change their instincts of survival, but we can learn about them and understand them, and modify our own behaviors, so that all of us — human, cat, dog, coyote — can coexist. The guidelines are few and simple.

The other instinct driving coyote behavior is a food drive. We all need to eat. Coyotes normally hunt small rodents, but they will look for free food which they may find on their wanderings, and they may grab a small pet if the opportunity arises. So, hey, let’s not let those opportunities arise!

Roaming through their territories as they visit their hunting spaces is another instinctive behavior. Everyone should know that, by doing so, coyotes in fact are preventing other coyotes from moving in.

Most importantly, coyotes really want to avoid humans. In most urban areas they’ve altered their schedules to avoid us: they are active mostly at night when we are not, even though they are not nocturnal animals.

 Simple Guidelines Are What Is Needed:

What actually needs to be taught is that habituation is normal: all animals become habituated to sounds and movements in their environments. It’s okay, and even fun, to see a coyote. This should not cause fear. We should be shaping the overall mindset of folks to think more positively about coyotes. And we need to teach that coyotes are wary — not fearful — of people: they’ll do their best to avoid us, even if they might not flee as quickly as someone might want them to. In spite of this, coyotes will always be wary of people to a certain degree. It is feeding coyotes which should always be strictly forbidden — it is food-conditioning that could teach them to become demanding or even aggressive in their behavior — and attractants of any sort should be eliminated from yards: you don’t want to invite them to visit, and you might even want to discourage them by shooing them off if you happen to be there. Everyone should be taught how to shoo away a coyote effectively. Scaring or shooing them off intensely should be reserved mostly for when the coyote has entered your personal space — say 30 feet — or is coming after your dog, or if one has entered your yard. Everyone should be taught to respect a coyote’s space and keep away from it. But seeing a coyote off in the distance, or even as close as 50 feet, in a park during the day is normal and healthy coyote behavior. Please see this flyer for detailed information and explanation on scaring off a coyote: PRESS HERE.

Because of territoriality and because small pets are often seen as prey, but also because pets may be seen as an annoyance to coyotes — the presence and activity of small pets can be interpreted by coyotes as harassing or challenging them, so it’s not always about predation — it’s of prime importance that folks guard their pets: keep pets from roaming free, leash pets in coyote areas, don’t let pets chase coyotes, don’t leave food and other attractants out in your yards, know how to shoo away a coyote if it approaches your pet or if it comes into your yard. Aside from guarding pets, the most important management tool we have is habitat modification, consisting mostly of removing all food attractants to keep coyotes away. BUT, on occasion, folks need to realize that a coyote might come by — but that this should not be cause for alarm.

Examples of Misinformation or Misbehavior by Humans:

One of the problems in some communities is that the only option they are taught to use to deter coyotes is “hazing.” In some instances, when “hazing” may no longer be effective, because coyotes have become “habituated” to people and/or hazing, residents may see coyotes linger longer in their yards. When this happens, the coyotes are sometimes, incorrectly, perceived as “aggressive and dangerous”, as they have been in Seal Beach, California. Of course, those who have an informed understanding of “normal” coyote behavior know that habituation does not mean aggression — it just means that the coyote has become accustomed to seeing humans — and does not in any way indicate that the animal will react “aggressively” or that it is in any way a danger.

Another problem is when people are so fearful of the “mere presence” of coyotes that they overreact to seeing one — sometimes leading to coyotes being killed unnecessarily. For example, a coyote was shot and killed a week ago in Mamaroneck, NY after a resident called the police simply because they saw a coyote in their backyard — one that didn’t run off which is a sign of “habituation” and therefore “danger” some folks think. The responding officers, instead of providing an escape route for the coyote to walk away, surrounded the coyote and it responded defensively, as any animal would when it felt surrounded and trapped — and, therefore, was deemed “aggressive.”

Let’s educate the public properly and let’s use habitat modification as a primary tool, such as removing food sources. Scaring off a coyote, which is actually “hazing” reserved for when a coyote has come in too close and is at a closer range, is always effective if it incorporates actually approaching a coyote: coyotes never become habituated to this “important to know” technique. There are communities in Westchester, NY which are now starting to get this correct information out to residents, including New Castle, NY. I’ve sent a version of this letter out to others, who, like me, are helping with the concerns that some residents have about coyotes in Westchester.

Here is an example of irresponsible and counterproductive behavior by humans. I’ve been keeping track of a particular group of dogs in one of our parks in San Francisco whose owners don’t leash-up and who allow their dogs to chase after coyotes. Fascinatingly, it’s this group of dogs — almost certainly because of their hostile and antagonistic behavior towards coyotes — that the coyotes watch and monitor.  These dog owners feel that coyotes are a nuisance, but it is their non-compliance with leashing guidelines and allowing their dogs to chase coyotes which makes these dogs subjects of interest for the coyotes. The owners have, in effect, been allowing their dogs and the coyotes to engage and interact. It’s our responsibility not to allow any such engagement: the repetitive cycle can be broken by leashing the dogs. Other dogs in this park are leashed-up and walk on, and, not surprisingly, these dogs and coyotes leave each other alone.

These are my current conclusions, based on my own experience and observations over the last 7+ years, and from reading some of the recent reports from various locations around the US. 

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[revised for clarity 12/9/2014]

Please Help Ban Wildlife Killing Contests Forever in California

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Please sign the petition by the Endangered Species Coalition to put an end to Wildlife Killing Contests in California for good. The California Fish and Wildlife Commission will be making a decision on this issue on December 3rd of this year.


Please also weigh in by WRITING the  California Fish and Wildlife Department Director and the Commissioners, letting them know that you support the ban. Here is their contact information and a sample of what to write which you should put into your own words:

 California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Director, Charlton H. Bonham,

California Fish and Game Commissioners Mr. Michael Sutton, Mr. Jack Baylis, Mr. Jim Kellogg, Mr. Richard B. Rogers, and Mrs. Jacque Hostler-Carmesin,

I am writing you to please put a halt to the coyote killing contests in California, be they killing derbies, competitions, tournaments or roundups. This is a violent and sickening practice which has to be stopped not only in California, but throughout North America.

Wholesale slaughter for fun, entertainment, and money, is barbaric and it besmirches us as a society. It is shameful and offensive that the state is permitting a small group of killers to indulge themselves this way. The vast majority of folks are shocked that it is going on, and incredulous that it is even legal and being allowed. The wildlife in the state belongs to all of us — we must be their stewards and protectors, not their brutal killers. Please STOP THE CONTESTS NOW and put an end to it for all time!

Science has shown that mass killing of coyotes accomplishes absolutely nothing as a “management” tool: when there is wholesale slaughter of this type, coyotes quickly rebound and even increase — so the bloodbath serves no “management” purpose whatsoever. In addition, all animals have a function in our ecosystem, and coyotes are no exception: they keep rodents and mesopredators in check, helping to maintain a healthy and natural balance in the environment — nature always balances itself and we should allow it to do so. Beyond their ecology and reproductive biology, coyotes are one of the few species — 3-5% of all species — who mate for life and have intense family lives. The State should be helping folks get to know about them and appreciate them rather than kill them.

Please put an end to the coyote killing contests — ban them now and forevermore!

Thank you!


Kudos to Kathy! She’s Fighting to Stop the Coyote Killing Contest in Galax, Virginia

coyotewomanrgb_0Kathy Dowell is running the campaign to stop a coyote killing contest in her county of Grayson, Virginia. She is doing so single handedly with aid from of which she is a team member.

Kathy has passion and dedication, and she is the one doing the footwork in this campaign — it is her campaign. Besides distributing flyers and posters, putting up a petition and gathering signatures, she has written letters and, most recently, she has gotten her information out through the newspaper. She plans to attend the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors and she is looking for like-minded individuals in Galax to help her with her campaign.

Kudos to Kathy, and thank you!! You are a wonderful role model for us all! We’re proud to have you on the team and we’ll keep fighting in this effort until we get it stopped and we’re hoping others will chime in!


press on this image above to read the entire article; press below to help by signing the petition

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Sign the Petitions to Stop Gassing Coyotes at Seal Beach

UPDATE: Seal Beach, California, Reportedly Plans to Continue Killing Coyotes!


Despite a public outcry, Seal Beach, California, officials have reportedly decided to extend their coyote killing spree for three more weeks. During this time, coyotes will be trapped and gassed to death—a terrifying demise for these sensitive wild animals who seek only to sustain themselves and their families. In addition to being cruel, this lethal initiative is futile because more coyotes will simply move in from outlying areas to use available resources and remaining pack members will breed at accelerated rates, so their numbers will actually increase.Your voice is once again needed!

Coyotes are attracted to areas with dense rodent populations, therefore trash containment, trimming back vegetation, and prohibiting wildlife feeding will encourage them to move on. Please urge the city to cease trapping and instead promote humane control measures, then forward this alert widely!

Please read and sign the petition NOW!

And there’s a second petition — same issue!

Coyote Friend of Mine, by George Davis

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Coyote friend of mine, if only I could trade my nose for snout, my mouth for jaws, my skin for fur, my feet for paws, then we could run together, coyote friend of mine.

I had the opportunity to watch two coyotes on a gravel beach at the break of dawn here in Maine, one just sat in the morning sun soaking in the sun. Watched them both for about a half hour. I was in a boat so I don’t think they knew I was there. Wow, they stole my heart thus the poem.

Too much hatred and misunderstanding in these parts, makes me cry for them, no really. Saw a sign on a pickup truck that said Gods Guide Service: deer, coyote and bobcat hunts. Are you f……ing kidding me or what! I will have those signs one day, just has to be done.

Your film is great and I have sent your email address to a few friends of mine. A few of us got together last fall to cut down nine dead coyotes from a tree in front of this yo yo’s house. I mean they were right next to the road, why, why, why? Maybe he got the message because we haven’t seen them there again. One for us!

Anyhow, thank you for all of your good work in helping these wonderful animals, these friends of mine. Rage against the hatred!……..George Davis

[reposted from a comment on our site]

Seal Beach Residents Demonstrate Against Coyote Killings

Please support the group “Empty Cages Los Angeles” in their effort to stop trapping and gassing coyotes in Seal Beach, California. Coexistence requires little effort, entailing a modicum of education about coyote behavior and about simple guidelines that work. Let’s use our knowledge, not our fears, to deal with our urban wildlife.

Chinese Version of “Coyotes As Neighbors” is ready for viewing

I am pleased and proud to present a third version of our one-stop video presentation, “Coyotes As Neighbors” in Mandarin Chinese.

A huge thanks to the folks — every single one a community and/or professional volunteer — who spent hours working with me on this video project so that we could get useful coyote information out to people who are less comfortable with the English language. The video now can be seen and heard in English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Cantonese speakers, of course, will be able to read the Mandarin version even though the voice-over will be unintelligible to them.

My long-time friend Sylvia Chen, a special needs instructor with a Ph.D. in Neurolinguistics from Taiwan, spent many days interpreting and translating the text for the Mandarin version, minutely working out nuances of meaning for the Chinese speaking community. Zhu Yanan, from Beijing, only 23 years old and an international law student at USF — and a magician who practices “slight of hand”! — generously lent us his fabulous voice for the voice-over in Chinese and suggested I put some music into the background, which I did.

Two more long-time friends, Luz Andino, a Spanish teacher from Argentina at the San Francisco Friends School, and María José Phillips from Spain, with a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and adjunct professor in the Spanish Department at the University of San Francisco, worked many, many hours, separately, on the translation, and Rafa Unzueta Daly, a photojournalist from Chile who studied at USF, lent us his awesome voice for the Spanish voice-over.

Thank you all for giving so much of your valuable time and intense effort to this project. What an amazing and very special international group! I had fun working with you all and had fun putting the final work together in these videos! Congratulations to you all and thank you for supporting sharing of the environment with our wildlife!

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