Human Interference/Interactions with Coyotes

The Moraga/Lafayette coyote (or see PDF) we’ve all heard about and which is still on many people’s minds, should be seen as a strange anomaly: a single coyote apparently inflicting five bites over an 8 month period — something of this dimension has has not been heard of before. More than likely, there was human involvement in the way of hand-feeding and friendly interactions which may be at the core of what went on. A handful of innocent coyotes were put down before the “culprit” was identified. In other words, innocent animals were condemned. But also, even the “culprit” was simply following through on a trajectory initiated by humans.

I was sent the photographs below, along with a note from the photographer, in February of 2009 but I never published them because I found them very disturbing. Now might be the time to finally get them out there. And here is a video of a human playfully taunting and encouraging interaction with a coyote — the author calls it, “Coyote Attack: Best Footage Ever,” — he obviously published this video for its effect. You just have to look at it to see the coyote isn’t attacking at all so much as being incited by the human doing the videoing — the coyote is not snarling nor in attack mode. The videoer is almost playing tug-of-war-with the coyote as he extends out his foot. When I recently heard of a coyote going up, grabbing and then pulling on an individual’s pant leg, these are the things I thought about. You have to ask yourself, why ever would a coyote do that unless he had been incited by someone to do that?

Interactions with humans are what may lead to what happened at Moraga/Lafayette. This along with an innate higher feistiness of a particular coyote. Please don’t hand-feed or interact with coyotes for their sake as well as for ours. Although it might seem as though these interactions are benign, and most of the time they are innocent, there’s a lot more going on than that initial interaction, and in the end, it’s not good for anyone involved: coyote or human.

click on the photos to enlarge them and scroll through them

Coyotes in Whistler, BC
I happened onto your site. I have had a few interactions with the critters and have a series of photos of one of them. Here is a description of the episode.
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Coyotes at pit. My hand was attached to the fingers in the pic. This process took about 4 meetings. Only one was curious enough to get close, the other would only take a biscuit if I tossed it 30 feet from me. The curious one would come up (I had to be crouched, otherwise it would not come close) get close, sniff me and walk right around me.
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Hi ‘Coyotes in Whistler, BC’ —

Thanks for sharing your photos with me.

You know, I’m an advocate of coyotes and want people to know how to get along with them. One of the issues which comes up is feeding coyotes — especially hand-feeding them. This may cause them to eventually approach other people who are actually afraid of them. It could cause demand behavior.” Those people end up reporting “aggressive” and “dangerous” coyotes to the authorities, who then go out with guns to shoot them. So in fact, this kind of activity is discouraged by those of us who really like the animals.

I would love to post your photos and story on the blog, but it would be with the above advice, and that it is at the expense of the coyote that a person might engage in feeding them.

Please let me know if you would allow this. Thanks!! Janet

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Hi Janet —

I appreciate your advice and admonition.If you want to publish them as a bad example and it helps you get your point across, go ahead, it is a good cause.

Accomplishing The Opposite of What Was Intended

Whereas coyotes are opportunistic omnivores and can eat almost anything animal or plant, we don’t think of squirrels as being omnivores. Although squirrels apparently can’t digest cellulose — which means in the springtime they can go hungry when their buried nuts begin to sprout — they are more omnivorous than most people think. Squirrels eat mostly a variety of plants, including nuts, seeds, cones, fruit and mushrooms, but they are also known to eat meat in the face of hunger: this includes small birds, young snakes, smaller rodents, bird eggs and insects [Wikipedia].

For predators and prey depending on which end of the food chain you are on, you are either at the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time.

Squirrels can evade a coyote most of the time unless they’re caught unawares or have let their guard down. In this photo above, the squirrel had been diverted from its path on the road by an approaching car: that split second of indecision and hesitancy by the squirrel allowed the coyote to catch it. Either or both of these critters could have ended up under the wheels of the car. Instead, nature played out a little more naturally through the food chain — one had to die so that the other could live.

Note that, after catching small prey, coyotes often “toy” with it in a very cat-like manner. I’ve been told that this prevents the animal of prey from biting vulnerable parts of a coyote’s face, such as their eyes or tip of the nose, without which coyotes would have a hard time surviving.

Human interferences changes the equation, of course, most often without the knowledge of the human who is thinking of their generous “kindness” to nature rather than the nefarious effects of their actions. Here is a story about what can happen.

These are photos of coyotes looking up and waiting for food tossed to them by a human from her house.

Several weeks ago I became aware that a youngster coyote was hanging out in back of someone’s house. I decided to watch, and sure enough, a woman called to me from her porch to tell me that the coyote I had just photographed was “her” coyote who came out when she fed the squirrels. Within a few days four different coyotes had waited out there at various times.

I assessed her of the situation: that feeding brings in not only squirrels, but also coyotes, and it was a bad idea to feed coyotes. She defiantly told me that she was not going to stop feeding the squirrels. She closed the door so she wouldn’t have to hear me. She doesn’t realize that she’s not helping the squirrels, she’s “luring” them into a coyote death trap.

Here is the impact of feeding squirrels in a coyote area:

Squirrels congregate in the area at “feeding time”.

These squirrels have become fat which actually slows them down: they are less quick to get away.

Because of the presence of food AND fat squirrels, coyotes now hang out at the back of her house regularly. These coyotes are constantly looking up towards her porch and the door Dotty emerges from to feed the squirrels. Coyotes are associating food with humans.

Younger coyotes are becoming trained to wait out in plain view — it’s much easier than hunting. 

A neighbor complained to me that the woman is attracting rats to neighboring houses.

Another neighbor walking his dog complained to me that the coyotes now are always there and he has to deal with them: they stand on the path and don’t move, blocking the path.

I’ve experienced the coyotes walking towards me and surmise that they’re beginning to protect that area with it’s “valuable resources”. One coyote has “escorted” some of the leashed dogs (following them) out of the area.

Attracting the coyotes to this pathway makes them vulnerable to being chased by unleashed dogs.

Attracting coyotes here also makes them vulnerable to other people feeding them and trying to befriend them — and it makes them vulnerable to accepting harmful, even poisonous foods. They are learning not to run away from humans, and becoming more comfortable with human nearness. 

The woman says she feeds the squirrels only on her porch and in her yard, but I’ve seen bread on the path outside her house, and I’ve seen one of the coyotes venture repeatedly into her yard through a hole in the fence to get food. The effect of what she’s doing is feeding the coyotes directly: see “Food, The Behavior Shaper.” 

Worst of all, the squirrels are unsuspectingly being lured into a death trap. I don’t think this is what the woman intended. I’ve seen two squirrels downed already just while I was there.

Recently, I’ve seen scat from the fed coyotes which looks different from their normal scat. Might the bread diet itself be bad for coyotes? 

[9-21 jim Giles video]