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]

Coyote Night Vision and What Coyotes Know About Human Vision

coyote eyes

coyote eyes

Coyotes may be seen at any time of the day — they are diurnal animals, however for convenience in urban areas they have arranged their daily schedules to avoid human activity, so in cities they are active mostly at night when we are not. They can do this because their eyes have many more rod receptors than the human eye has, so they can see in the dark: they have night-vision.

Coyotes, like dogs and cats, have retinas that are almost entirely composed of rods. They have a superabundance of rods with only few cones.  Rods require less light to activate than cones, but they only allow you to see black and white; having lots of rods means great night vision. Humans, on the other hand, have predominantly cones and fewer rods. Cones require a lot of light to be fired up, but they allow color vision in bright daylight and they produce a very sharp vision. Cones do not respond to low light: under low light, humans rely on their lower number of rods. Note that for us, at dawn, dusk and nighttime, everything looks black and white, and not very clear or sharp, and we can’t see far.

Rods have a photosensitive pigment called rhodopsin which is particularly sensitive to low light. This pigment actually breaks down in strong light rendering it ineffective during the day, but at night, and when there is a superabundance of the rods as is the case with coyotes, the pigment is created faster than it breaks down. So these animals, out at night, can see pretty well even though you can’t, but they cannot see as sharply as those of us who use cones in daylight.

In addition to more rods, there is another factor which aids coyotes and other critters in their night vision. Have you ever noticed that if you take a photo of animals at night, their eyes shine? This is because they have a sort of “mirror”, called a tapetum lucidum, beneath their retina. This collects and re-emits light back into the retina, giving the rods a second chance to absorb visual information, enhancing their ability to see clearly in low light conditions.

Other  adaptions allow a number of animals to function at night and during the daytime, such as slit-eye pupils which cats and foxes have. Their pupils can open completely during the night, yet the slit protects their eyes from bright daytime light. One of the adaptations of owl eyes — owls only function at night — is the huge size of their eyes: their eyes often take up a full half of the room in their skulls. The increased retinal surface of large eyes permits even more rods which can collect even more ambient light. Since owl eyes are so large and must fit tightly into their sockets, owls cannot swivel their eyes in their sockets like we can. Instead, they rotate their heads at the neck to focus on different things. They can rotate their necks a full 270º!

So, coyotes are diurnal and can see well at any time, whereas humans see best when there is plenty of light.

The interesting thing is that coyotes seem to know where human perception lies, that we can’t see well at night — I saw an example of this just a few days ago. As I watched this older coyote in the photo below, he became aware that I was watching, and he curled up in a ball to watch back. Coyotes do this often — they’ll watch back and be just as entertained as you are! It got darker and darker and pretty soon I could no longer make out any details about this fella lying in the grass — in my eyes, he became a barely perceptible colorless bump in the grass.

As he lay there, a group of five young women began approaching. They were not quiet and sedate, but animated and active. It was a Friday night and they were headed-out excitedly together. You would have thought the coyote would move — he was only 8 or so feet off the path. But as I watched, fascinated, the coyote remained exactly where he was, and the girls walked by without even seeing the coyote right next to them. The coyote didn’t move because he knew from experience that he would not be detected at all. I’m not sure whether the girls thought he was just a pile of dirt or a rock, or if they even noticed that. I approached them afterwards, and asked, and they said they had had no idea.

 

Profile by Joel Engardio for the San Francisco Examiner

2014-01-10 at 16-16-29

get-attachmentA COYOTE WHISPERER FOR URBAN COYOTES: For seven years, 64-year-old Janet Kessler has been voluntarily observing and photographing urban coyote behavior throughout San Francisco’s parks. She regularly logs six hours a day, taking up to 600 pictures. “People think coyotes are vermin, dangerous or the big bad wolf,” Kessler said. “But they’re wonderful animals we can live with if we treat them with respect and take the right precautions.”

Read full essay: http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/woman-on-first-name-basis-with-sf-coyotes/Content?oid=2815528

Pups Spied: Dad Minds The Youngsters!

What a fantastic surprise to see this sight a few days ago on one of my extended treks through our various Bay Area parks! It looks like, true to reputation, coyote fathers spend their fair share of time minding the kids. Look hard, and you can see it’s the father. Here you see a papa coyote in charge of four youngsters.

Papa minds the youngsters

Papa minds the youngsters

Youngster sticks snout into Papa's mouth

Youngster sticks snout into Papa’s mouth

But fathers’ jobs include much more than childcare. Fathers keep pups fed by bringing them regurgitated food and small whole prey. And they also will help train them to hunt. Note in this second photo how one of the youngsters is pushing its snout into Papa’s: that is what normally elicits the reflux in the father — but it’s just play here.

The kids here were pretty calm, while Papa sat there, ever so proud of his large brood. He saw me in the distance, and stayed there only long enough for me to get a few nice shots. Then he headed them into hiding and away from view.

Playing and observing

Playing and observing

Coyotes and Dogs, Coyotes and Humans, and How To Shoo Off A Coyote

The updated presentation — updated on June 13th — is at the top of the page in the second posting on this blog: It’s called Coyotes As Neighbors: Focus on Facts.

The version I’m posting today, here, in this posting, is called Coyotes As Neighbors: How To Shoo Off A Coyote. It is a shorter version of that first one: I’ve cut out some of the coyote behavior slides and the section on killing coyotes, and I’m concentrating on human and dog relationships to coyotes, and how to shoo them off in each instance. This version here is 20 minutes long, versus 30 for the one at the top of the yipps blog. Otherwise, they are exactly the same.

I don’t think a lot of the information in these videos can be found anywhere else — I don’t think much of this detailed urban coyote/dog behavior has been observed or documented. Except for some statistics and the section from Robert Crabtree (I think that’s the original source) that killing coyotes increases their populations, most of the coyote information in these videos comes from my own 7 years of first-hand observations. I’ve been spending 3-5 hours daily in our parks, engaging in my “pioneering photo documentation” (that’s what one journalist called it!) and research of coyote behavior and their interactions with people and pets. I believe these are the first such presentations which concentrate on the urban coyote himself! I’ve been told by coyote specialist professors that the dog/coyote observations are new. The video has been reviewed by an experienced wildlife conflict manager with 15 years of experience in the field.

Anyway, I would like to to get the information out there now because we’re in the middle of pupping season — there might be more coyote encounters coming up.  This information will be useful especially to dog owners. If you have time for the longer version, I recommend that one. If you don’t, try this shorter version. They are both pretty long, but they contain most information that you’ll need, especially if you are a dog walker.

Following Behavior: Territoriality, Curiosity, AND Evading

2013-04-20

A coyote may follow you and your dog — the dog is the issue — out of curiosity or to monitor it, the same way you yourself might follow a “suspect” prowling through your neighborhood, to find out where they were going and what they were doing.

If you find that you are being followed by a coyote, walk away from the coyote — and don’t run, running invites chasing. Keep aware of the coyote and shoo it off effectively if it gets too close, and move on. And keep your dog leashed. Pick up a small dog.

The leashing is to keep your dog from being distracted by the coyote and going after it. You want to avoid engagement between the two.

I’ve seen this same following-behavior used for a purpose totally different from either curiosity or monitoring. It was used effectively by a coyote to avoid detection, as a human and his dog passed by. The dog had a history of chasing the coyote, and the man had a history of pursuing the coyote aggressively with his camera.  So this coyote had a particular interest in avoiding this duo. The dog and person passed while the coyote stood absolutely still and remained hidden and undetected in a dark wooded area. Then, to my great surprise, the coyote came out of hiding and followed them at a close 30 feet. The coyote did so carefully, on high alert and prepared to bolt  if necessary. This went on for about 200 feet before the coyote veered off to where the brush picked up again and it could continue undetected through the bushes. Neither the man nor his dog ever looked back!

In this case, what seems to be going on is that, by following in the duo’s “wake”, the coyote was continuing to avoid detection. Animals and people tend to look around themselves, but much less frequently  directly in back of themselves. We all tend to concentrate on sounds, smells and sights which are in front of us or to the sides. Coyotes know this, and “follow” as a method to avoid being seen.

Left Back Leg: New Injury or Old Injury Acting Up?

holding up the back left leg

holding up the back left leg

She’s been limping for several days now. It was barely perceptible at first, and I questioned myself as to if it really was a limp. But now it has gotten worse — a definite limp.

I’ve not yet trained myself to recognize, by the stride, if the injury is in a paw, wrist, knee, hip or shoulder — veterinarians apparently can do this. But even I can tell that it’s the back left leg because she holds it up regularly, not wanting to put her weight on it, and her gait is not smooth.

It doesn’t seem to hamper her ability to move. I still see her climbing steep inclines and rocks — but it might be hampering her speed. And the injury might be the reason she keeps much further away from people and dogs, all the time lately.

I wonder how much it hurts. I know it hurts because she’s holding it up. Pain serves a purpose — it tells her “don’t use this appendage”.

Is this a new injury, or is it an old injury coming back to haunt its victim? Four years ago, this same coyote sustained a severe injury on her hind back left leg after being hit by a car, the same leg she is now holding up. That leg retains large black scars from that incident. Is this that injury acting up, or is it a new injury? No way to know. I’ll keep tabs on it.

Anyway, life is short in the wild. Every injury or disease takes its toll. A coyote can live 14 years in captivity — but what a horrible worthless life that would be. In the wild, the average life expectancy of a coyote is about five years. Do we even know how long coyotes live in the urban wild? Many urban coyotes are killed by cars. In some areas of the country, coyotes are trapped and killed in urban/suburban areas. Most coyotes everywhere endure all sorts of diseases and injuries. Whenever there is an injury, I think about it specifically and globally.

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