Seven Year Old Father Coyote Killed by Officials in San Francisco

Apparently there had been reports of a coyote charging towards children. It had happened several times, beginning last fall. Last fall. Why wasn’t anything done right away to control the situation — there had been plenty of time to do something? Better information, cordoning off the area, firmer explanatory signs could all have helped. Even a docent in the area could have helped.

Here’s a portrait of the old fella. I last saw him on July 5th: he had stopped to lick up food left on the road. People gathered to watch him which should have, but didn’t, faze him at all: his wild wariness had been robbed by people feeding, approaching, and befriending him — I wish they had known that they were contributing to his end.

The coyote was a seven-year-old father. He was killed two days ago on July 16th in Golden Gate Park by California Department of Fish and Wildlife — called in by our Park Department (RPD) and Animal Control (ACC). History repeats itself. Almost exactly 14 years ago, in July of 2007 two coyotes were shot dead in Golden Gate Park by CADFW, called in by ACC. In both cases, the coyotes were protecting their den area. In the 2007 incident, dogs had intruded into the den area and gone after the coyotes, and one of those dogs was bitten by a coyote. The bite was obviously meant as a firm “message” by the coyotes to get those dogs out of that area and leave their den alone. Due to this protective behavior, the coyotes were killed by sharpshooters. ACC later regretted calling in CADFW. This year, it appears that “coyote denning” signs were insufficient, and that children and their parents were not taking the warning signs very seriously. They came too close to the denning area, and the father coyote charged towards them to warn them away. There were no bites and there was no contact, but the behavior was scary, so the coyote was killed because the behavior had occurred several times.

There had been similar incidents in the fall of last year in the same area, but that was a different father coyote who disappeared: precautions were taken at that time by cordoning off the area.

Pups belonging to this father coyote were born this year in the shrubbery in back of Pioneer Meadow, whereupon the father became protective of that area even before the pups’ birth. Large signs indicating that the Pioneer Meadow was closed to dogs helped a lot, though dogs still went through that area and chased the coyotes on a regular basis. At the end of April, probably for safety reasons, the den was moved by the parents to the Botanical Garden which proved to be an attractive area for them since dogs aren’t allowed, and a huge peripheral fence helped enforce this policy. Moving den areas is not uncommon for coyotes.

There is an additional circumstance involved in this story besides denning behavior. This coyote over the years had been not only profusely fed, but hand-fed and befriended by humans. This caused him, contrary to expectation, to become docilenot aggressive: if you spent any time watching him, you would have seen this. This coyote was NOT what would be called an “aggressive” coyote. Away from his denning areas he did not approach children as he did close to the den. That behavior was due to his need to protect his den — it is denning behavior — all coyotes protect their dens this way: the behavior is insistent and persistent and therefore scary: it has to be to get the message across. That’s why it’s important to stay away from them. However, constant feeding, and especially hand-feeding by humans had caused this coyote to lose his wariness and to feel comfortable enough around people, especially small children, to actually approach them with a warning to stay away. So feeding was involved in the behavior in a roundabout way, but den-protection was at the heart of what happened. The outcome, of course, is the same, but teasing apart and realizing what was actually occurring are also important for being able to fix the problem.

It’s too late to do anything now, the coyote is dead and gone, but I believe more could have been done to prevent this outcome — both to protect this father coyote whose large litter of seven pups will need that extra adult bringing in food, and to educate and protect the public. I’m really saddened by the decision that was made.

Vacant niches are quickly filled in the coyote world, so another male will soon take the killed coyote’s place. History will at some point again repeat itself. Wouldn’t it be better to better prevent the possibility of such an outcome by doing what is really needed instead of a quick-fix shooting? Better signage, cordoning off the area, maybe a docent in the area, and stronger education to help people know that we all need to keep away from dens and that feeding is hurting the situation, not helping.

One has to wonder now how his mate will rear all those pups alone — they are just 3 months old. I knew another mother who lost her mate to rat poison when the pups were only a few weeks old. She succeeded in raising her pups alone, but she only had two of them, not seven. :((

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