Most cities seem to leave it to individuals — not even larger neighborhood groups — to trap and kill coyotes as they see fit. Folks have long been taught that killing them is the way to manage them, even though it has been proven that this results in higher and younger populations, and fewer stable families to keep other coyotes away. In some places a permit might be required at certain times of the year, but usually not, and sometimes a reason is required to get the permit — including that the coyote was a “nuisance”. In one community, coyote yipping sounds were deemed a “nuisance”. These protocols seem to be the norm. There is no education behind them.
Few cities have actual written “coyote management plans”, such as the plans in Vancouver and Denver. More cities have informational websites offering the standard guidelines and explaining that killing coyotes doesn’t work — again, folks are free to trap and kill if they want to in these communities.
Here in San Francisco trapping and killing are not permitted, but we do not have a written coyote management plan per se, because it was deemed unnecessary. A coyote organization attempted to push its plan through in San Francisco — a plan that included extensive hazing — which the San Francisco Animal Commission wisely turned down. Coyotes do not need to be “hazed” whenever they’re seen — it can be counterproductive. See below.
What works here in San Francisco is educating the public about coyotes and their behavior and giving folks guidelines which will prevent conflicts and other issues. I’ve helped convert many folks to a positive mindset just by telling them a little about coyote family life and iterating the guidelines with some one-on-one help on shooing them off. Coyotes do not approach people unless taught to do so with food, so feeding of coyotes is forbidden, and folks are taught not to leave food attractants out in their yards.
As everyone should know, pets are the main issue of concern, but this is an issue which can be easily managed by not allowing pets to roam free, and by leashing and walking away from a coyote the minute you see it. Basically, what the authorities have been saying here in San Francisco is, that if a dog is bitten by a coyote because the dog was not leashed, or if a cat is taken because it was allowed to roam free, it’s really the owner’s fault and could have been prevented by following the guidelines — please take better care of your pet. This protocol is the only way to make coexistence work: it’s easy, it’s effective, it’s responsible, and the burden of responsibility is on the pet owner to guard his/her pets.
Habituation and Hazing:
I would like to add something here. . . . In my opinion, some of the “expert” information out there is counterproductive and remiss — it’s actually hurting coyotes and increasing fears in humans. For instance, “hazing” — mostly noise and erratic movement such as arm waving — is promoted as a cure-all which will cause coyotes to flee. But as I’ve seen here in San Francisco, and as we’ve seen in several cities which have now returned to trapping, for example in Seal Beach in Southern California, coyotes can get used to this and begin responding to it more slowly or even ignoring it.
The big problem then is what this does to people’s perceptions about coyotes: folks are under the impression that if a coyote doesn’t flee quickly when hazed, that it is therefore “habituated” and that it now poses a danger to the community. This is not so. Folks have been taught that a “habituated” animal is a dangerous one. This, also, is not true. Because of what has been taught incorrectly about habituation, folks feel that if they simply see a coyote, or if it doesn’t flee quickly upon seeing a person, it must be habituated, or on its way to becoming habituated, and, therefore, to becoming dangerous. Where does this come from? There is no science at all behind it. Telling folks this is increasing their fears. So teaching that “hazing” is a solution has actually backfired.
We all need to become aware of coyote behaviors so that we can know how to prevent issues. Yes, coyotes don’t like canine intruders in their territories: they even don’t allow non-family coyotes in. All canines, be they wolves, dogs, foxes or coyotes, don’t really like each other and all will exclude the others, as well as members of their same species who are non-family members, from their territories. This is instinctive behavior. We can’t really change their instincts of survival, but we can learn about them and understand them, and modify our own behaviors, so that all of us — human, cat, dog, coyote — can coexist. The guidelines are few and simple.
The other instinct driving coyote behavior is a food drive. We all need to eat. Coyotes normally hunt small rodents, but they will look for free food which they may find on their wanderings, and they may grab a small pet if the opportunity arises — it happens very infrequently, but it has happened. So, hey, let’s not let those opportunities arise!
Roaming through their territories as they visit their hunting spaces is another instinctive behavior. Everyone should know that, by doing so, coyotes in fact are preventing other coyotes from moving in.
Most importantly, coyotes really want to avoid humans. In most urban areas they’ve altered their schedules to avoid us: they are active mostly at night when we are not, even though they are not nocturnal animals.
Simple Guidelines Are What Is Needed:
What actually needs to be taught is that habituation is normal: all animals become habituated to sounds and movements in their environments. It’s okay, and even fun, to see a coyote. This should not cause fear. We should be shaping the overall mindset of folks to think more positively about coyotes. And we need to teach that coyotes are wary — not fearful — of people: they’ll do their best to avoid us, even if they might not flee as quickly as someone might want them to. In spite of habituation, coyotes will always be wary of people to a certain degree.
It is feeding coyotes which should always be strictly forbidden — it is food-conditioning that could teach them to become demanding or even aggressive in their behavior — and attractants of any sort should be eliminated from yards: you don’t want to invite them to visit, and you might even want to discourage them by shooing them off if you happen to be there. We used to recommend intense shooing off of coyotes coyotes when the coyote has entered your personal space or has come right up to your dog. Now, instead (2016) our recommendation for dog-walkers is that they practice “total avoidance” of coyotes when in a park: whether you see a coyote in the distance, coming towards you or if it’s already underfoot, leash your dog and go the other way without running.
It’s really not practical or fair to ask elderly people or those who are afraid of coyotes to “haze”/harass them. Walking away accomplishes what is needed: the coyote’s entire intention in approaching is to move your dog and you away. So, do it! Vulnerable smaller dogs which might be viewed as prey should be picked up immediately. If the dog is small enough, tuck it under your shirt or jacket to remove it from view as you are walking away from the coyote.
Everyone should be taught to respect a coyote’s space and keep away from it. It is normal to see coyotes in parks, but dogs have to be kept away from them. Please see this flyer for detailed information on how to handle coyote encounters (revised 2016): PRESS HERE.
Because of territoriality and because small pets are often seen as prey, but also because pets may be seen as an annoyance to coyotes — the presence and activity of small pets can be interpreted by coyotes as harassing or challenging them, so it’s not always about predation — it’s of prime importance that folks guard their pets: keep pets from roaming free, leash pets in coyote areas and especially after spotting a coyote, don’t let pets chase coyotes, don’t leave food and other attractants out in your yards, know how to handle encounters. Aside from guarding pets, the most important management tool we have is habitat modification, consisting mostly of removing all food attractants to keep coyotes away. BUT, on occasion, folks need to realize that a coyote might come by — but that this should not be cause for alarm.
Examples of Misinformation or Misbehavior by Humans:
One of the problems in some communities is that the only option they are taught to use to deter coyotes is “hazing.” In some instances, when “hazing” may no longer be effective, because coyotes have become “habituated” to people and/or hazing, residents may see coyotes linger longer in their yards. When this happens, the coyotes are sometimes, incorrectly, perceived as “aggressive and dangerous”, as they have been in Seal Beach, California. Of course, those who have an informed understanding of “normal” coyote behavior know that habituation does not mean aggression — it just means that the coyote has become accustomed to seeing humans — and does not in any way indicate that the animal will react “aggressively” or that it is in any way a danger.
Another problem is when people are so fearful of the “mere presence” of coyotes that they overreact to seeing one — sometimes leading to coyotes being killed unnecessarily. For example, a coyote was shot and killed a week ago in Mamaroneck, NY after a resident called the police simply because they saw a coyote in their backyard — one that didn’t run off which is a sign of “habituation” and therefore “danger” some folks think. The responding officers, instead of providing an escape route for the coyote to walk away, surrounded the coyote and it responded defensively, as any animal would when it felt surrounded and trapped — and, therefore, was deemed “aggressive.”
Let’s educate the public properly and let’s use habitat modification as a primary tool, such as removing food sources. We USED TO TEACH that scaring off a coyote — a form of “hazing” reserved for when a coyote came in too close and was at a closer range, incorporating approaching a coyote — was effective and that coyotes never become habituated to this “important to know” technique. We’ve learned that this is not a good approach to teach the public — instead, as stated above, we recommend that all dog-walkers abide by *total avoidance*. There are communities in Westchester, NY which are now starting to get this correct information out to residents, including New Castle, NY. I’ve sent a version of this letter out to others, who, like me, are helping with the concerns that some residents have about coyotes in Westchester.
Here is an example of irresponsible and counterproductive behavior by humans. I’ve been keeping track of a particular group of dogs in one of our parks in San Francisco whose owners don’t leash-up and who allow their dogs to chase after coyotes. Fascinatingly, it’s this group of dogs — almost certainly because of their hostile and antagonistic behavior towards coyotes — that the coyotes watch and monitor. These dog owners feel that coyotes are a nuisance, but it is their non-compliance with leashing guidelines and allowing their dogs to chase coyotes which makes these dogs subjects of interest for the coyotes. The owners have, in effect, been allowing their dogs and the coyotes to engage and interact. It’s our responsibility not to allow any such engagement: the repetitive cycle can be broken by leashing the dogs. Other dogs in this park are leashed-up and walk on, and, not surprisingly, these dogs and coyotes leave each other alone.
These are my current conclusions, based on my own experience and observations over the last 7+ years, and from reading some of the recent reports from various locations around the US.