The Coyote “Wild Barrier” Is Breaking Down in Our Parks

Habituation — a certain familiarity — occurs when species are put into close contact with each other, as they are in our urban parks. Our aim should be to keep this familiarity at a minimum, so as to insure safety and to prevent conflict — to create a peaceful coexistence for everyone involved: for dogs, humans and coyotes. To achieve this requires a little effort on the part of everybody.

For the most part, coyotes in the city are considered to be more of a nuisance than actually a threat. Coyotes may be considered a nuisance simply by being seen, even without evidence of having done anything — this is not true of other urban wildlife. There are misconceptions and fears regarding coyotes because people are not familiar with their normal behavior: people don’t know what to expect from coyotes, and they don’t know what is expected of themselves. Education at all levels may aid coexistence.

First, it is important to know that coyote attacks are extremely rare, but they are possible. Like any wild animal, coyotes may behave unpredictably when cornered, sick or hurt. If a coyote appears threatening to you, you need to scare it off. I have heard of coyote aggression towards humans only when a coyote has come to associate humans with food. Please never feed a coyote, and never leave pet food outside.

Humans need and want to keep a safe distance from coyotes. A coyote’s natural wariness of humans has always been maintained except when dogs are involved. The closest I’ve seen coyotes come to humans is when there is a dog problem.

This occurs when a dog chases a coyote, or when a dog comes in too close to a coyote or even when there is visual contact/communication between the two which is almost always of an aggressive or threatening nature — this last occurs even with leashed dogs. The natural “wild barrier” between dogs and coyotes is broken down whenever there is “interaction” or “engagement” of this sort between the two. “Mutually engaged” means “mutually focused” on each other. A coyote remembers these incidents. The door has now been opened for future coyote/dog interactions — which bring the coyote into more frequent and closer proximity to humans.

So, habituation appears to involve a chain reaction. We need to prevent it on all levels. Coyotes will adapt in the way they need to to survive and to feel safe. Coyotes will defend themselves against dogs, and they may eventually take the initiative to prevent future threats towards themselves from particular dogs. Coyote/dog interactions always bring coyotes close to humans.

By the way, since coyotes carry diseases and parasites, if your pet is bitten, please follow an intense cleansing procedure and contact a veterinarian.

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