Thrill vs. Fear, by Anca Vlasopolos

Two days ago I saw a very healthy-looking coyote, photo attached. It got a laughing gull off the shore and took it presumably to a den, then returned for more. My two friends were freaked out, although the animal was quite far away from us and wouldn’t have approached us, I’m sure, since it looked very capable and healthy.

But we did tell a group of women coming to the beach with a toddler in a carriage and a lab whom they wanted to let loose to swim in the ocean that they should not let the dog or the kid run around too far. They too freaked out. I’m not sure I’d want a coyote too close to our fenced-in yard where Haggis runs around, but he’s never unsupervised.

Anca generously allowed me to publish her photos and description of her recent coyote encounter. What’s of interest here is how Anca’s two friends reacted: it’s a reaction which is more common than most of us realize. She adds, “Not surprisingly, I went with the same two friends to the Audubon sanctuary in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod where we live, and we had an encounter with what I think was an Eastern hog-nose snake. Again, my friends got very upset about its existence, one saying that there was no reason for snakes to be on earth. I did tell her that I’d take a snake over a rat any day and that we’d be overrun with rodents if not for snakes, but my powers of persuasion were not up to the task. The poor shy snake took off so fast that I didn’t have a chance to get a photo.”

Please let’s all help get information out to folks so that fear doesn’t dominate their wildlife encounters, and so that thrill will! By the way, Anca is a renown writer and poet: please visit her site at: www.vlasopolos.com

Coyote Den In A Backyard

Den

Hello Janet,

I found your wonderful blog and fabulous photos as i was researching coyotes on the google machine. I really like your respectful approach to wildlife. Thank you for sharing your photos and observations.

I started learning about coyotes this spring, when i found a coyote den on my property. I live in Portland Oregon, on the outskirts of the city. I found a large hole in my yard about a month ago, and as i was sitting near the hole trying to decipher the tracks in the mud around it to figure who might live in there, i heard some high whimpering coming from the hole (pups!). After an entire day of watching the hole from a window i finally saw that a coyote mother crawled in there after cautious observation to make sure nobody was watching.

I have not told anyone about this den for fear that someone in my neighborhood would call animal control and ‘remove’ the animals. People have so much fear and disdain towards coyotes.

I have mixed feelings about this den. On the one hand, i am honored that they would find my yard safe to inhabit. On the other hand, i have cats who go outdoors during the day (but i keep them indoors at night). If it weren’t for the cats, i would have absolutely no problem with this den here.

I am not sure how to proceed. These cats harass me all day long to go outside. I find it unfair to trap cats indoors who are habituated to going outside (what good is prison life?). What is the likelihood of coyotes hunting cats during daytime? There are conflicting opinions on the internet.

I get the sense the coyote mom may have moved her pups this week- I haven’t seen her at all in the yard. She knew i knew where the den was. I spend a lot of time in my garden and that probably made her nervous. Do you know if coyotes return to their dens after a period?

I want to coexist peacefully with this family of coyotes. I found your blog to be a great resource for understanding coyote behavior. I have so much more to learn. I want to understand them so that i can avoid conflicts and allow these beautiful creatures to live peacefully. If you have any advice or resources you could point me to, I would be so grateful.

Thanks again for everything you have shared in your blog.

Susan

Den (with coffee mug for size reference)

Hi Susan —

I’m so glad that you like the blog and that you like my approach to wildlife! Thank you!

Cats could be a problem for coyotes (and vice versa) for a number of reasons. Yes, ultimately, some coyotes do see cats as prey. But also, cats and coyotes are competitors for the same resources (rodents), which, if resources are low, could cause conflict between the cats and the coyotes.

A half-way solution which would allow the den to remain undisturbed and your cats to have *some* freedom would be a catio. Of course, a catio isn’t really the out-of-doors, so it may not be a solution that would work for you.

Coyotes do move their pups between several dens during the pupping season. Creating a slight disturbance everyday — as apparently you have — will cause the coyotes to move to another location. If your coyote mom moved the pups for this reason, she may not return. If she moved them simply because it was time to rotate them to another den site, then she could come back. If you don’t want them back, continue to create a disturbance around the den — or put some soiled human socks close by and walk around the den opening a few times for several days in a row to leave your scent. If you want them back, you might stop the gardening for a while (no guarantee they’ll return).

As you say, people have a lot of fear and disdain towards coyotes, so we need to keep in mind that the coyote could move her pups to a place where they are absolutely not welcome. This is the biggest problem to be aware of.

In addition to my coyoteyipps blog, there is a website I contribute to a website called Coyotecoexistence.com. These two sites will answer a lot of your questions. THEN, if you are lucky enough to have the family return, spend time watching them! This is how you are really going to learn about them.

I would be really happy to post any of your observations and photos. Your story is very interesting! Let me know, and also please let me know if you have further questions! 

Janet

Den secondary hole

Janet,

Thanks so much for your quick reply and helpful suggestions!  The Coyotecoexistence website had some really helpful videos (i had found that before, and didn’t realize it was related).  The ethics of hosting domesticated pets is challenging, and continues to be a source of daily conversation and questioning in our household, with no clear answers on many of the nuances (i.e. pet food, cats hunting critters, prisoners of the house, and on and on…)  An unintended positive effect of the coyote den has been that it put one cat on high alert and very cautious behavior outside, so she did not have a chance to hunt anything.  The yard became the hunting grounds of the coyote mom from the cat’s perspective.  One of the clues that the mom is gone is that the cat acts more brazen now in the ‘enemy territory’ part of the yard.  The other cat is ‘sweet and dumb’, and i doubt she knew anything about the coyote’s threat. I watched her stick her head in the den out of curiosity at a time when i knew there were pups in there.  Not the brightest crayon in the box. I like the catio idea, and will see if it’s feasible in some part of the yard (although it doesn’t solve my prisoner issue).

I attached some photos.  The den is dug under an old abandoned ‘root cellar’ type concrete outbuilding that is built into the hillside.  You’ll see it’s visible from my bedroom window, so it’s really close to the house.  They must have decided we pose no threat to their offspring.  The den has two holes that i know of – a main entrance (which i deemed too small for a coyote before I actually saw one squeeze herself in there) and a smaller hole that is definitely too small for an adult coyote.  I included the mug in the pictures for size reference.

Thanks,

Susan

View of den from bedroom window

Shy Mom – Brave Mom, by Charles Wood

Janet’s post from May 4th reminded me of my Mom coyote from about 7 years ago. Janet noted that it took courage for her coyote to message a dog that in the past had chased that coyote. I agree.

My mom coyote was shy when I first ran into her. She had shown herself to me and my dog Holtz as we wandered around in her territory. I didn’t know how to communicate with Mom coyote and had some vague hope that we would become friends. She showed herself and so I decided to sit down. I did sit down and so did Mom. She seemed pleased that I had sat. However, being friends wasn’t in the cards.

Shy Mom


The Shy Mom photo is her at what turned out to be an easy entrance to her den area. She chose to stand her ground where pictured, barring Holtz and my progress into the brush. We moved toward her. She went back into the brush. I couldn’t see where she was so I went forward. She came out as soon as we stepped forward. That was a message that was clear and I left.

Mom – Braver


Later I thought I had such a good picture. I was close up to her and there was a lot of detail in it. I carefully edited it as it appears in this post. What I edited out of the photo was something it took me a couple years to notice. I had edited out her full breasts and swollen nipples. I hadn’t looked carefully. Once I did look, it fully explained to me the reason she had barred the path to her den area. Yet she had been so polite. She wouldn’t make eye contact, instead averted her eyes. Previously she would shadow us and occasionally stand out nervously in the open for a while. I decided she was terminally shy.

Brave Mom

A few months later Mom became brave. With Holtz by my side and separated from Mom by a chain link fence, Mom came up to us and did a number. Then she showed us how fit and brave she was. After that day, going just by my percepts, she was no longer shy with Holtz and me. After that day Mom gave us more of the same and then some. I couldn’t help but interpret her change in behavior as her change in mind and spirit when around us. Being friends, of course, was not in the cards that Nature dealt us.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos from LA: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Knowing Me

Coyote hurrying in my direction to keep away from dogs and walkers. It's actually dark outside, about 9pm -- it's astonishing that my camera was able to register these clear, albeit blurry, images.

Coyote hurrying in my direction to keep away from dogs and walkers. It’s actually dark outside, about 9pm — it’s astonishing that my camera was able to register these clear, albeit blurry, images.

I’ve known this coyote for seven and a half years — I’ve known him from before he was born. I can say this because I witnessed the entire courtship and pregnancy leading to his birth and knew he was on the way. He probably knows me as well as I know him. Coyotes are as curious about us and our dogs and probably spend more time watching us than vice-versa, and they are fast learners.

I once read that, “Your dog knows you better than you know yourself. Why wouldn’t he? After all, he/she spends all his/her time watching you.”  I thought, “well, of course!” Well, coyotes also spend time watching and getting to know us, our patterns of behavior, our attitudes and treatment of them. They are known for their curiosity and for observing. They are consummate hunters because they come to know the minute behaviors and reactions of their prey — they learn this by watching.

For the most part, this fella treats me the same as he treats anyone else: he keeps his distance and is suspicious. Yet at the same time, we have an understood pact, born of years of experience: my pattern is to stand off and observe. I stay well out of the way so as not to be an element in the behaviors I observe, and I never purposefully engage his or any coyote’s attention or interact in any way. I have defended him against dogs and he understood my role during those occasions. He’s formed an assessed opinion of me based on all of my behaviors which are relevant to him over the last seven-plus years.

But once I did break my rule to not interfere. A photographer with his dog was enticing/encouraging the coyote to approach them. The photographer and dog were on the path the coyote was trotting along. The coyote took a very wide detour around the man and dog to avoid them but then stopped to watch this duo staring at him. The man started taking photos and walking towards the coyote who now was within 50 feet. From years of observation, I could see that the coyote was turning to his defensive/messaging mode. If you, and especially if your dog, stares at a coyote, especially while approaching it, the coyote will become aware that he has become an *object of interest*, and the coyote may wonder why and what is going on. In a coyote’s world, *the interest* would be one of either predator/prey or possibly a territorial dispute.

This man and his dog have continually been a little too *in-the-face* of this coyote which is probably why the coyote stopped when he was being stared at so intensely. I did not want the photographer to set up an antagonistic situation and then get a photo of the coyote messaging his dog, and it looked as though this was going to happen. The coyote would have *messaged* either by taking on fierce-looking body language as a warning or possibly even by nipping the dog’s haunches as a stronger warning. The  photographer and his dog should have been moving on and away from the coyote — not towards it. So I interfered to prevent any engagement — and the possibility of such a negative photo — by clapping my hands and getting the coyote to move on.

What is interesting — and this is the point I want to make in this posting — is the coyote’s total surprise at my unexpected behavior. The coyote didn’t seem to believe his eyes at first — this wasn’t one of the behaviors he had ever seen in me before. I could see that he was actually confused. The coyote look at me, frozen, in seeming-disbelief. I repeated my actions and the coyote backed away slowly, while looking at me quizzically. My behavior here was totally out of character. And I, too, felt that I had betrayed our understood contract, and I had. But that was better for the coyote than having him photographed in an antagonistic pose next to a dog by a man who was intent on publishing his photos — that would have been more negative publicity for our coyotes. This is an isolated instance of my interference and it hasn’t happened again with this coyote. I need to remain totally neutral always to get the natural behaviors I’m seeking.

Another instance of a stunned reaction from this  very same coyote was the time I walked my son’s dog. This coyote did an obvious double-take because I never before, during his lifetime, had been *with* a dog. This particular coyote, by the way, always flees the instant he ever sees the one and only woman who pursues him relentlessly and aggressively. The coyote has learned to avoid this one person because he knows she will engage in hostile behaviors towards him: she charges at him no matter how far off in the distance he is as he’s minding his own business, flinging rocks at him and screaming. These little vignettes I’ve described here are to show how *in-tune* coyotes are to our behaviors — they do get to know us.

As I said, this coyote treats me like anyone else: keeping his distance and maintaining his suspicions. BUT, he knows I will never pursue or hurt him, and in a pinch, I suppose he knows I’ll be the one who will be accommodating and will move aside to let him go by — this sort of routine has played out often between us.

He pees/marks as a message to those in back of him

He pees/marks as a message to those in back of him

He turns to continue on his way, and then acknowledged my presence in passing with a "hello" type of look

He turns to continue on his way, and then acknowledged my presence in passing with a “hello” type of look

Back to the story behind the photos posted here. So today, when I saw the coyote trotting briskly in my direction and then look over his should at the two walkers and dogs coming towards him from behind, I realized that he was fleeing from the dogs and I was in his pathway. If he hadn’t known me and my patterns of behavior, he probably would have diverted off of the path to get away from both me and the dogs. Instead he hurried in my direction because he knew I was safe and that I would move for him. And indeed, I hurried down the path and away from him onto a cross path so that he could get by, and I then turned around to watch him and the developing situation. The coyote had come within 10 feet of me and, turned around to watch the dogs and their owners who were still approaching him. He peed/marked for them — actually a message of warning — as he watched them coming closer. He was aware that I was right there but he paid me no heed. Then he turned to continue on his trotting way,  acknowledged me as he went, and I acknowledged him with, “Good day” and a nod, and he trotted on into the cover of bushes, with one last glance at those of us in back of him before disappearing from view.

The coyote hurries on and into the brush

The coyote hurries on and into the brush

I reminded the dog walkers of our newest protocol for keeping things safe around coyotes: when you see a coyote, whether it is in the far distance, approaching, or at your side, the best policy is always to tighten the leash on your dog and walk away from the coyote without running.

Before disappearing completely, the coyote turns and looks at those of us in back of him. He had gotten to where he wanted to go without incident.

Before disappearing completely, the coyote turns and looks at those of us in back of him. He had gotten to where he wanted to go without incident.

Responding to Recent Postings on Social Media: A Recap of Some Urban Coyote Behaviors and Some Explanations

This posting is a slightly revised and expanded version, with photos, of what was originally written for, and posted on, Bernalwood.com on May 27th.

our Bernal coyote at dawn

coyote at dawn

We have coyotes in most of our parks here in San Francisco, and most folks I’ve spoken with are thrilled about it!  Enjoy it and respect its wildness! At the same time, there are some people, especially pet owners, who are not so thrilled. Here is some information I’ve put together about coyotes, much of it based on my own observations, as a response to concerns and comments which have appeared in some of the social media recently. This is information that applies to urban coyotes everywhere, not just here in SF.

COYOTES ARE TERRITORIAL AND LIVE IN FAMILIES

coyotes in our parks

coyotes in our parks

Most parks in San Francisco have one stable resident family, or a loner. Coyotes are not “pack” animals of unrelated individuals. Families “claim” territories which they “own” from which they exclude other coyotes — this is what keeps the population density down. They trek through the neighborhoods every night, during the early morning or early evening hours — and, more rarely, during the brightest hours of the day — marking their territories to keep other coyotes out and looking for hunting opportunities. Studies show that in urban areas, there is generally about one coyote per square mile — a family of 4 would require about 4 square miles. You will always be seeing the same individual coyotes in any particular area.

Although we have parks with loner coyotes, most parks have mated pairs with families. Coyotes mate for life, and both parents raise the young. Coyotes mate in January or February and produce young in April — births occur only once a year. 

The number of family members fluctuates up and down continually over time. In one park, it went something like this: 2-5-3-4-2. The fluctuation is due to new pups, and then to their dispersal or deaths. There is only about a 30% survival rate of pups during their first year — disease and nutritional issues take their toll.

When it’s time for youngsters to “disperse”, the parents will drive them out, or they may just pick-up-and-go. This usually occurs between one and two, and sometimes three years of age, and it occurs throughout the year — there is no “dispersal season”. However, the breeding adult pair will remain in the same territory over many years. Interestingly, wolves will actually kill their own kin in order to preserve their own statuses and territorial rights. I’ve not seen this in coyotes, but I have seen the altercations that drive coyotes out of their birth territories.

Cars are urban coyotes’ chief cause of death — please drive carefully! They often trek on our traffic grid — it’s often the “path of least resistance”.  A few days ago, in our Diamond Heights neighborhood, a car swerved right into someone’s house to avoid hitting a coyote during the early morning hours.

MORE ASSERTIVE OR INSISTENT BEHAVIOR

coyote shows her anxiety and displeasure with a dog by jumping up and down

coyote shows her anxiety and displeasure with a dog by jumping up and down

As the individuals in a family mature, some of them may go through phases of what might be called more “assertive”  or “insistent” behavior, such as: following or running in the direction of a dog. During pupping season, the assertiveness is strongest, with coyotes even approaching and possibly even nipping at a dog’s haunches. These are coyote “messaging” behaviors: coyotes want dogs to move on and to know the territory is taken. These behaviors don’t “define” a coyote, and they don’t last. Think of these as phases in a teenager’s life, or in a parent’s life — there’s an ebb and flow to behaviors for each coyote, often based on what is going on within the coyote’s individual family: Are there new pups? Is there increased sibling rivalry? Are parents having issues with the offspring, or trying to get one to disperse? I’ve seen no evidence to indicate that such behaviors build up towards more aggressiveness. Many of the more apparently “assertive” behaviors, both in juveniles and adults, are based solely on circumstances and happenstance encounters, so keep your distance.

SIGHTINGS

trekking through the neighborhood

trekking through the neighborhood

A substantial increase in “sightings” doesn’t necessarily translate into a spike in the coyote population, though this is what many people assume. Again, increased sightings could be due to their current family dynamics which may cause individuals to wander farther afield.

Unusual weather conditions can have an effect on sightings. San Francisco has just been through a four-year drought. Drought conditions cause coyotes to hunt further afield and for longer hours. They become more visible to humans and more prone to incidents during these times when their activity overlaps with ours. It takes 8 full months for an ecosystem to recover from a drought.

Human changes to the environment, including new construction, will affect coyotes in an area. In San Francisco, coyotes may be lingering longer in neighborhoods recently, and therefore be seen more, because of the current program of thinning and eliminating dense and protective thickets in the parks, reducing coyotes’ normal secure habitat.  Stopping the destruction of the habitat, and compensating for the exceptional weather or drought in various ways until the ecosystem has recovered, both are steps that could be taken to reduce sightings, and possible dog/coyote encounters, and coyotes’ spending the past-twilight hours in neighborhoods.

FEEDING

feeding coyotes is not good

feeding coyotes is not good

Please don’t feed the coyotes. Feeding breaks down the barrier that keeps coyotes wild. If they become food conditioned  — which is different from “habituation” (see below) — problems could develop, including approaching people, which increases the chances for a negative incident to occur. Feeding them also encourages them to hang around yards where people don’t want them.

Coyotes are opportunistic eaters, which means they can eat almost anything, but their preference in San Francisco is for gophers, squirrels and voles, which they eat whole: they need the meat, muscle, bones, fur — all of it — to nourish themselves properly. They also eat fruit, nuts, bugs, weak or juvenile raccoons, skunks, opossums, and possibly snakes. They prefer their whole foods over human-made foods, but if that human food is available, they’ll try it. And they will eat the occasional cat or small dog if circumstances are right — they don’t know who is a pet and who isn’t. Don’t create the right circumstances that could add your pet to the food chain. Please protect your pets by not allowing them to roam free and by supervising them closely when out-of-doors.

As top predators to an area, coyotes have helped rebalance the environment: they control rodents and some mesopredators, such as opossums, skunks and raccoons.

HABITUATION

a habituated coyote is not a dangerous coyote

a habituated coyote is not a dangerous coyote

Urban coyotes do not “fear” humans — that is an incorrect term. Rather they are “wary” of humans. This means that, although a coyote won’t flee lickety-split in fear when they see a human, they nonetheless will maintain distance and not approach us. And we, in turn, need to respect them and their wildness by keeping as far away from them as we can. “Habituation” is a normal progression in urban areas — you cannot prevent it because you cannot stop coyotes from seeing humans on a daily basis — they get used to seeing us. A habituated coyote is not a dangerous animal. In fact, the term “habituation” was first used to describe bears as being more dangerous if they got used to people and lost fear of us. This assumption has been turned on its head: scientists now know that bears who are habituated tend to ignore humans, whereas bears who have never seen humans become reactive. In Africa, to make gorillas less reactive to humans, for the tourist trade, people purposefully habituate them — they become less dangerous.

Coyotes also habituate to “hazing” tactics, which is why such tactics should not be used if a coyote is way out in left field. Scaring off a coyote should be used sparingly. It should be reserved for when a coyote has come too close to you. It is a useless tactic unless the coyote is closer than 50 or so feet to you, which generally delineates its critical distance for discomfort.

Note that “habituation” is different from “food conditioning”. When visibly feeding or hand-feeding a coyote, you are conditioning it to approach humans. Don’t feed coyotes.

THE ISSUE IS WITH PETS

suspicious coyote mother and a dog owner not being vigilant

suspicious coyote mother and a dog owner not being vigilant

Whereas coyotes don’t approach humans, dogs are a different story because of territorial issues and because of prey issues. In many ways, coyotes and dogs look alike, but coyotes and dogs are naturally antagonistic towards each other. Remember that coyotes keep other coyotes out of their territories. Coyotes are also both curious and suspicious of dogs: they may feel compelled to come in closer to investigate. Always supervise your pets to prevent incidents: the minute you see a coyote, leash and go in the other direction. Most dogs have a tendency to go chasing after coyotes. Please don’t allow your dog to do this.

coyote messaging a dog -- the dog should have been kept away from the coyote

coyote messaging a dog — the dog should have been kept away from the coyote

Coyotes have approached dogs. If they get too close, they could either grab a small dog or “message” a larger dog who the coyote considers a threat to its territory or its personal space. They can only do this when they get close enough. Don’t let them. You can prevent an incident by keeping your dog away from coyotes in the first place, by leashing when you see one, and by walking away from it. It’s no different than when you encounter a skunk with its tail up: keep your dog off of it, and move away from it. 

coyote following

coyote following

 IF, inadvertently or by surprise, a coyote gets too close, that is when to scare it off, otherwise just walk away without running: see http://baynature.org/article/how-to-get-along-with-coyotes-as-pups-venture-out/

Coyotes may follow dogs to find out what the dog is doing and where it is going (they do the same to non-family coyotes). If you and your dog are moving away from the coyote, and away from any denning site, the coyote soon will no longer follow. If you don’t want the coyote to follow at all, toss a small stone in its direction (not at it), and/or approach it (but don’t get too close) using your own blatantly angry body language and angry yelling. Noise alone, or waving flailing arms, is not always effective in making a coyote move — something has to move  towards the coyote. And it isn’t going to help if you are too far away. You’ve got to get within the coyote’s critical distance — at most 50 feet — and you have to be assertive about it. Walking towards the coyote while slapping a newspaper viciously on your thigh works, but tossing stones towards it is probably more effective. However — and this is a very important “however” — if the coyote doesn’t budge, it is probably protecting a nearby den site. In this case, turn around and leave. Do not provoke an incident. See the above link in Bay Nature.

It’s always best to be proactive in keeping a coyote away. The minute you see a coyote, leash up and move away from it, and know how to shoo it off effectively if it comes closer to you than 50 feet.

Note that practically all scratches or bites by coyotes to humans are due to feeding the coyote, or to an owner getting him/herself between a coyote and a pet, so don’t do these things. And, never run from a coyote: this activity actually initiates the chase response in a coyote who may also nip at your heels. They also sometimes nip at car tires when the car is in motion. The phenomena is called “motion reactivity”.

ENCOUNTERS CAN BE SCARY

Encounter: the dog chased the coyote and the coyote stood up for itself

Encounter: the dog chased the coyote and the coyote stood up for itself

Encounters CAN be scary if you are unprepared and don’t know what to expect or what to do. Please learn what coyotes are like, not what you think they “should” be like — for instance, that they don’t “fear” humans but are “wary” of them, and not that “coyotes should be heard and not seen”. By knowing their true normal behaviors, and by knowing what to do *IF* they approach your dog, you will be informed and you will not be so fearful. For starters, watch the video, Coyotes As Neighbors:  https://youtu.be/euG7R11aXq0, which will spell out normal coyote behavior and what you can do to keep coyotes away from a pet.

MANAGING COYOTES

The number one method of managing coyotes for coexistence is through human education and human behavior modification: that is what this posting is trying to help with. These have been shown to be extremely effective. The City of San Francisco has been lax in putting out signs or getting educational material to folks. Some of us have been filling the void, getting material, information and guidelines out to people, but as individuals or as small organizations, we have not been able to reach everyone. Please visit coyotecoexistence.com for specific information, and  coyoteyipps.com.

Many cities have coexistence policies — they all work when folks abide by the guidelines. BUT, as with car driving laws, even if you know them and follow them, there will be some fender-benders that might be frightening. We have fewer than 100 coyotes in the City; the number of dogs is in the 250,000s. There is bound to be an incident now and then.

The number of real coyote incidents in the City is not many. There have been less than a handful of dog fatalities by coyotes — all were unleashed small dogs in known coyote areas — all were preventable. There have been many incidents of people being frightened and reporting “attacks” on their dogs. Few if any of these attacks were reported on a questionnaire which would tease out what actually occurred. Instead, these incidents have been spelled out on the social media with warnings of doom that is awaiting us all.

Most of the sightings of coyotes have been reported as charming. But there have been some fearful encounters, and recently groups of dog owners in some of the parks have turned decidedly against them. Social media tends to perpetuate, spread and amplify the fears, and encounters are inevitably worded as deliberate “aggressive attacks”. For instance, recently, there was a report of an attempted “attack” on a dog at 5:30 in the morning. However, a lone coyote, who weighs 35 pounds, is not going to “attack” a 130 pound Mastiff… Coyotes may watch dogs, follow, or hurry in your direction for many reasons, including curiosity, or investigation. They may jump up and down because of anxiety. These are not “attacks”, nor are they “attempted attacks”. Hopefully, by learning about coyotes, we can diminish the very real feeling of fear which comes from not knowing what is going on.

a coyote standing on a pathway, watching

a coyote standing on a pathway, watching

Our Animal Care and Control Department has had many people report “aggressive” coyotes: but when questioned further, the majority of these reports were of a coyote just standing, or doing nothing but looking at the purported victim.

Two years ago I watched a man, straight faced, tell me that he had been frightened “out-of-his-wits” by a monster 100-pound coyote just a few moments before seeing me. He was visibly shaken. He hadn’t seen me watching the whole incident a little way down the path. The incident involved his dog chasing a coyote. The coyote turned around to face the dog. When the dog ran back to its owner, the coyote proceeded on to where it had been going. But the owner was left frightened, and justified his fright by saying it was a “monster 100-pound coyote”. If the dog had been leashed, the incident would not have happened. It happened in a park where everyone knows there are coyotes.

If you have questions, or if you want help with specific issues, please contact me or anyone at coyotecoexistence@gmail.com

A Small, Very Loved Coyote

Today I got to better know, through another coyote lover, a little coyote who frequents one of the tourist spots in San Francisco. Like most tourist spots in San Francisco, this was also a residential neighborhood and the place where the coyote resides. Many folks have sent me emails worrying about her because she was being fed by lots of people — by both residents of the area and by tourists — and folks were allowing their pets either to chase her or to interact with her. Eventually, this could spell no good for the coyote. Folks can actually unknowingly shape coyote behavior and the outcome of a situation by their uninformed actions. Feeding or interacting with an urban coyote can often spell doom for the coyote. This coyote kept her distance from people, but she showed no fear of them, which also worried some people. I had already visited the area and posted some tri-lingual signs with guidelines that all folks should follow. There are not enough informational and alert signs put out by the City, to inform folks that there is a coyote living in the area along with guidelines to help protect both the coyote and all pets from each other.

Bipasha had contacted me about advocating for coyotes with her photography. This was the coyote she was photographing. We decided to meet.

I arrived early for our meeting, well before dawn, so I walked around. Two friendly, older fellows who spoke both Mandarin and Cantonese (I know because I asked them) were doing their daily exercises at this spot-with-a-view. They told me that they saw the coyote regularly — that she was part of the neighborhood, and that they liked and accepted her as part of the environment. Because of their enthusiasm, I thought of giving them the link to the Mandarin version of the video,  “Coyotes As Neighbors”. So I asked them if they had Internet access. They waved their hands showing me that the Internet was not part of their lives. It was a reminder that many people do not have Internet access, and information must reach them by other means.

Soon I met the first runner of the morning. Dawn was just beginning to break. He had slowed down to take a breath after a long, arduous climb. He told me he was delighted to be in San Francisco and couldn’t get enough of it. I asked him about his coyote experiences.  It turns out that he was in the City only for a day. He comes to San Francisco once a year for a medical conference — and before the conference he made it a practice to take this trying run. He felt he had fallen a little out-of-shape compared to last year. Interestingly, he told me that, yes, he had seen a coyote each of the two previous years during his run in this location and he had always been delighted to see them.  Then he had to run on, so I asked that, if he saw a coyote on his way down the hill, could he please yell “coyote”, and he said he would.

the little coyote appears

The small coyote appears

This is when Bipasha appeared — she had found me through my blog which she liked. As she began to tell me her story, the doctor suddenly reappeared excitedly and out-of-breath at the top of the hill again. He beamed a wide grin and said, “a coyote is on its way up this road.” Ahhh, he had seen the coyote and called me the way I had asked him to! We thanked him, and before he turned around to go, there she was, “The Small, Very Loved Coyote”. I asked Bipasha if the coyote had a name, and was told it was Cai (for coyote, of course). Bipasha is a lady who has spent a lot of time watching and photographing Cai. She has developed a deep love and substantial knowledge of this coyote’s particular habits. For instance, the coyote comes to this spot at just about the same time every day, usually following the same route. When she arrives, she stands very still at various spots and looks around to assess the goings-on — you might call this “patrol duty” — many coyotes do this. The coyote knows Bipasha and they smile at each other — there appears to be understanding and respect between them, and there appears to be mutual trust: each knows that the other will not approach or harm the other. Bipasha is actually still a little afraid of the coyote. When she saw her first coyote, she was absolutely thrilled, but she would wait in the safety of her home, behind a window, and watch, too fearful to venture out looking for Cai. Then one day, someone told her where the coyote had been seen, and Bipasha took a chance, holding on to her fear, and found the coyote. It’s been love ever since.

Cai surveying "her" area

Cai surveying “her” area

Cai learned to hear which car belonged to her friend and both began appearing at the the same spot at the same time. Bipasha thinks the coyote actually waits for her. At this “meeting spot”, the coyote hangs out, and the few tourists at this early hour take her photo. Today, no one feeds her. After a while, she moves to various other locations: behind a fence, on a grassy area, down the walkway. She always stops where we can see her — she makes no attempt to hide or run off.  She exudes calm friendliness and trust . . . and a gentle sort of wariness, keeping her distance. I, too, soon fall in love with her as I listen to Bipasha talking about her routines and behaviors and the love she has developed for the coyote. The coyote soon hops down, and Bipasha says that it looks as though the coyote is about to move on. Then Cai slips out of sight. Bipasha tells me where the coyote has gone. She has actually followed the coyote a number of times and knows her routes.

Cai sits off the beaten path sniffing in and comfortably looking around.

Cai sits off the beaten path, sniffing and comfortably looking around

We walk down a hill where, surprise to me, but not such a surprise to Bipasha, there is Cai again, exactly where Bipasha said she would be, probably 1/4 mile from where we had originally met her. This, I’m told, is Cai’s second “hangout”. We watch her sniff and cross the street a few times. She now looks as though she’s at loose ends — “Where should I go now?”, but maybe it’s just that she feels a little uncomfortable with a number of people around and a car pulling out of a driveway. Bipasha then picks up cues that the coyote is about to leave for the day. Bipasha tells me that Cai will begin to go and then she will turn back several times to make sure she is not being followed — and this is what happens. Bipasha used to follow Cai, but she stopped when the coyote “told” her not to follow. I knew exactly what Bipasha was talking about, because I, too, have “read” coyotes telling me that they don’t want me to follow.

Cai sniffing the ground probably where dogs have been, and marking

Cai sniffing the ground, probably where dogs have been, and marking

Many folks apparently have fallen in love with this particular coyote, who by all standards would have to be called “sweet” — a real sweetheart. The majority of neighbors want to protect her from harm. She “belongs” to these residents. Bipasha and I walked up the hill. We feel that something needs to be done right away about the feeding and about folks allowing their dogs to chase or interact with her. We’ll begin by designing a sign: “A Fed Coyote Is A Dead Coyote”, and then we’ll plan more — we’ll do what we can to keep Cai, the Little Very Loved Coyote, safe, happy, healthy . . . and wild, which will at the same time keep folks and pets safe and away from her.

Cai departs for the day

Cai departs for the day

 

 

 

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