Addressing a Coyote’s Attack on a Toddler, with Walkaboutlou

I’ve been sent this disturbing video by a number of people who wanted my input about it: within the few seconds a 2 year old toddler is left unattended, a coyote walks by and grabs her by the leg and drags her a short distance.

We need to understand this disturbing coyote behavior in order to deal with it properly.

Right off the bat, I want to point out that this coyote behavior is not caused by “coyotes multiplying and wandering all over the city who need to be managed”, as I’ve recently read on NextDoor. Such an interaction could have occurred had there been only ONE coyote in the entire city. But, to address coyote numbers: Coyotes manage their own numbers: see Territories and Population in San Francisco. Any attempt at population management — i.e., reducing their numbers — could actually result in an increase in their population. The reason is that killing them disrupts their very organized social system whereby only the alpha parents on any one territory reproduce. Without that stable system, all females may end up breeding until a new order is reached. It’s their territoriality which keeps their numbers in check, with youngsters apparently dispersing south and out of the city — at least those who have not been killed by cars, of which there were over 24 in 2021. Since Covid restrictions were instituted several years ago, many more people have been out than ever before, seeing coyotes, often for the first time. With more eyes out to see them, more are reported on NextDoor, with people therefore claiming a huge increase in their numbers. So for example, that someone saw coyotes out on Greenwich Street for the first time was reported in the news during the Covid lockdown, but in fact, coyotes have been traveling that street every night since I started documenting them many years ago. There have also been many, many more dogs who were adopted during Covid, leading to more dog/coyote encounters. So that’s the population situation. As I said, with only a single coyote in the city, the incident in the above video could have happened.

About the coyote’s behavior. Several things appear to be going on. First of all, that this coyote came so close to humans in the first place may indicate that he has been fed, or that he’s used enough to people to not feel threatened by them. It’s important not to draw them in through friendliness or feeding because this increases their comfort level around us. Secondly, and more importantly, coyotes are wild animals, and no matter how “sweet” or “harmless” they look, there is always the “potential” for a negative interaction. What you see in this video is extremely rare, but that doesn’t change the “potential” for this kind of interaction. Why? Look at coyote behavior in the wild. Coyotes — and many dogs, by the way — are instinctively and magnetically drawn to small wobbly youngsters of all species, be they newborn lambs, horses, deer, cattle. It’s why so many children are injured or even killed by dogs. Please know that there have only ever been recorded two human fatalities from a coyote — that’s how rare it is. However scratches and a puncture wound could result to a child.

The “management” that has to be done by the City is educating the public, but the City, through ACC and RPD, has failed miserably in getting information out, either through effective signs — many of theirs are faded and dilapidated with ineffective information — or through talking to individuals — which they seem to engage in minimally if at all. One of ACC’s duties is “care” for the animals, which I laud, but posting photos of officers cuddling a coyote sends the wrong message and is counterproductive given the goals they want to achieve.

Bottom line from Lou and myself: Children grabbed in this manner is unacceptable. But knowing how this can actually happen is the key. A wobbly small unattended small child, or animal, can attract a trigger. For coyote:  Do not encourage familiarity. Do not feed. Do not trust any wild animal or strange dog around small children. Besides keeping your distance from coyotes, please never leave your young child unattended — something could happen in the blink of an eye. We hope no other kids are grabbed and the child in the video will be ok. Please read my exchange below with Walkaboutlou who is a keen first-hand observer of coyotes and their behaviors on ranches.

Hello. Lou here. Someone just sent me this as proof coyote aren’t trustworthy around children.
I answered no wild animals are trustworthy around children.
Also…while I admit this is unacceptable..I also say this is a result of humans feeding a wild animal.
If you feed a bear in your yard for periods of time acclimating it to human activity..then allow tiny children to be around bear…there is a danger in that.
When people feed wild animals..especially doesn’t change their nature or hunting instincts. can suppress or remove instincts of fear and avoidance..and tragically lead to situations like this.
I don’t have all the answers and again..find this unacceptable. However..this isn’t the norm. And is a conditioned response by multiple behavior

Sessions of behavior modification. Feeding. Human Feeding.

Hi Lou — I was sent this same video. I’ve seen a number of fed coyotes. Feeding makes them hang around closer to human activity and lose much of their wariness of us, but it doesn’t make them aggressive. From what I’ve seen, feeding makes them mellow and docile. So I question that feeding is the culprit — at least not the sole culprit — except that the coyote was more comfortable initially approaching the human situation. I’ve now seen several videos of coyotes approaching young children rather aggressively like in this video. I believe there’s some kind of instinct working here . . . it’s almost as though they (coyotes) see children in the same way they see dogs: they don’t like them and they don’t trust them. So there’s more involved than just feeding, and it has to do with childrens’ size. Maybe with their vulnerability? I’m thinking out loud. Yes, it’s unacceptable coyote behavior, and it hurts efforts to help folks accept them. :(

You know, it’s like the doe you saw them go after: they somehow can read who is vulnerable and unlikely to retaliate in a life-or-death way.

Lou: That makes sense yes. I think there is a way too familiar vibe there..(hence my thought of feeding) but you know it better there. Not blaming that man..but he allowed a toddler to waddle out alone..I’ve seen it with coyote. They will actually approach newborn bison…not because they are ready for mom…but the helplessness. That makes sense! I know coyotes here have nailed new helpless calves, horse foals, lambs, puppies, IF unattended. They will definitely check out wobbly unattended babes.

Coyote for about 2-3 days can handle fawn deer or elk calves. If they see wobbly teetering babes they rush in almost as if magnetized. And…if someone witnesses that..they often want to kill every coyote. It’s hard to accept. But its context. From cars to unstable human predators to canines of ALL sorts..toddlers need protecting. How many dogs jump unattended children? Many.

Small children need guarding. And unfortunately…it can mean on occasion…a triggered coyote.

I see your observation as accurate. Triggered.

Jan: Yes, somehow “triggered”. Feeding draws coyotes in closer, but it’s more than just that from what I’ve seen. It doesn’t happen all that often, but, nevertheless, it happens. I tell folks to stay far away from coyotes. But that coyote in the video seemed to come out of the blue and grabbed the child in that split second when she was left unattended. The thing is, kids need to be attended every second — tragedy can happen in just one second, be it from a coyote or anything else: people need to understand this. I can rattle off a lot of tragedies that happened in a split second. For example the child who in the blink of an eye slipped between the sidewalk and the road pavement of the Golden Gate Bridge as her dad was filming her. He couldn’t understand how she had disappeared into thin air and of course she hadn’t — she had slipped underneath the bridge. A little girl was kidnapped by a FedEx delivery man when no one was watching her for a few minutes. Kids have to be watched ALWAYS. A childhood friend of mine drowned in the split second she was unattended — they couldn’t find her until it was too late — at the bottom of a shallow pool of water. In the split second of inattendance, a preschool schoolmate of my kids’ had grabbed the toxic cleaner on the table and ingested it, burning and destroying his esophagus and vocal chords forever. It only takes a second. You never expect these things, and then they happen. My friend Melina keeps her dogs far away from all kids: the “potential” for harm is there, she says.

Lou: That’s what it amounts to. I think for me…it’s shocking obviously because it was a toddler child…but I’m still not used to the ease city coyote have. The coyote I’ve known..even the “bold” ones have almost always been extremely fearful or respectful of actual human personally. What I’m seeing is classic predation of wobbly young and distracted parent..but its not a new elk calf or fawn in the video. And it’s jarring yes. I can remember when my kids were tiny them playing hide and seek in park. We looked up to see my daughter, 4 “hiding” behind tree..with 2 bear cubs other side peeking! I ran did mother bear..we both collected our young, both fearful and growling. I’ll never forget that. Yes…the children MUST be guarded and watched every moment.
I also hate this to happen not only for child..but whenever a coyote here “acts up” it puts all the coyote in danger from retribution a long time.

Jan: Exactly. Very upsetting that a human toddler was targeted — though understandable from a wild animal behavior perspective — which few city people understand, and anyway, they won’t tolerate it. My fear is the knee-jerk danger it puts the coyotes in from human retribution, as you say. I can only hope that those in authority keep a level head about it. These attacks are extremely rare, but they happen. They are avoidable if people know about it — but it hurts coyotes’ reputation. :( Yikes, you don’t want to mess with mama bears!! Glad your kid was okay! I’m wondering if I should post the video and our discussion on my blog? Any thoughts? Janet

Hi Janet…that’s up to you. At any case…I think people need to be aware…it’s not about being able to “trust” coyote or that they are starving etc…they are premiere OPPORTUNISTS. And while the vast majority wont grab kids..there are some that will trigger and will. A doddering fawn, calf, lamb, small dog or child will magnetize certain coyote just like we talked about some..not all..taking on deer if a trigger is hit.

Anyone who feels a wild animal needs to be trustworthy isnt really realizing Nature or animals

And living with or among any animal…livestock..dogs..or coyote…means who especially watch and guard our little ones. Just like parents do in nature.

Hi Lou — The message needs to get out there, as you say, that coyotes are opportunists and wild, and distance and vigilance are needed needed. Kids need to be supervised closely at all times.

Lou: Yes..I think it’s important for people to realize…coyote usually don’t grab kids…however..the potential is there. Dogs, Coyote, Cougar, Bear, Moose, Elk, Horses, all have triggers. Some coyote…not all..are triggered by weakness in others not usually seen as prey. Some coyote will tackle weakened deer etc…but irregardless, the triggers can be there. A wobbly toddler alone is definitely a trigger, I believe most coyote chose to ignore. But obviously not all.

BTW–I’ve witnessed moose, feral horse, otter, Deer, feral dog, etc etc incidents and every time…the human or pet involved gave the situation to trigger the actions. It’s really key to know common sense principles. Distance. Awareness. And being aware of real triggers with pets or kids.

Jan: Yes, TRIGGERS: people need to know this, and it involves the young of any species: that it’s perfectly natural coyote behavior that can be prevented by being vigilant and staying away and supervising a child every second.

Lou: Exactly yes. Triggers. Triggers give us clarity and also reduce bad choices. I know my dogs will be wounded or worse if I allow them certain behaviors around wolves and coyote and LGD. Knowing triggers and maintaining vigilance are really skills needed out in ranges or in cities or anywhere.

So please, everyone, the way to stay clear of this kind of interaction is to stay vigilant and constantly supervise your small children when out of doors in a coyote area! By the way, an author and observer of the situation in Los Angeles, Lisa Febre, wrote me that, “The good thing is that on the Facebook posting of this story (by the tv station) the comments are very pro-coyote. People around this side of Los Angeles — in the “outskirts” of the San Fernando Valley, against the wild hills to the west and north — live with coyotes and seem very fascinated by them rather than afraid. These people REALLY defend them. All my neighbors here love them, and talk about coyote choruses they’ve heard, and share security camera footage of backyard sightings. Even when my dog was attacked, the other neighbors were worried “you’re not going to report it, ARE YOU?!” No freaking way!! I felt AWFUL for my dog, but so much worse for the coyotes if anyone had reported the attack. Although, it worries me that people leave out food “for feral cats” which they don’t realize is related to enticing coyotes to their property! More cats, fatter coyotes.”

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dr. James B. Mense
    Dec 08, 2022 @ 16:32:11

    I agree with everything that has been said. Unfortunately, our society has become so urbanized and out of touch with the natural world that living with wild animals is virtually impossible. People will habituate them. People have tried to pet bear cubs at yellowstone! Unfortunately the wild animal always gets the blame. This is analogous to the way native Americans were treated in the 19th century. Good luck with trying to educate people who have grown up in the artificial world of a large city!


  2. Dr. James B. Mense
    Dec 08, 2022 @ 16:50:47

    And here is another video of a coyote attack. Two coyotes were killed as a result and neither one of them was the coyote responsible for the attack, proving once again “Fair is a place you get cotton candy.”!


  3. Dan De Vries
    Dec 08, 2022 @ 23:08:33

    Thanks for that exchange, Janet & Lou. One might wish that the audience was even larger than may be, but for those of us who are paying attention the information (and admonitions) are very helpful. I’m with Lisa Febre, I really love the little beasties, but unthinking love is never a good thing.


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