After a toddler was attacked by a coyote in Woodland Hills earlier this week, many California residents are understandably concerned about the behavior of the bold and often-misunderstood predator.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is tasked with oversight of coyotes and providing resources to law enforcement agencies that respond to attacks. The department says a full-scale investigation is underway to locate the Woodland Hills coyote and kill it.
Fish and Wildlife officers have been canvassing the area looking for the coyote, which is said to have been on their radar for several weeks now after several complaints.
“We have people in the area with dart rifles available, tranquilizing rifles available, and if there is a 911 call and someone says, ‘Hey, there is a coyote in my backyard right now,’ they will be able to respond,” says CDFW Captain Patrick Foy.
Despite the shocking attack in broad daylight, coyote attacks aren’t all that uncommon.
Earlier this year, a 2-year-old girl suffered serious injuries after she was bitten on the head and face by a coyote near the Huntington Beach pier. Two coyotes were killed by law enforcement and DNA positively identified one of them as a culprit.
This year, there have been seven recorded coyote attacks on people throughout the Los Angeles area.
Coyotes live in packs, mate for life, and are critical in reducing the rodent population. They are not strictly nocturnal, like many believe.
Animal rights activists say humans share the bulk of the blame for the increase in coyote encounters.
As humans expand their footprint in California, including in the hills above the cities where packs of coyotes live, run-ins are more of a inevitability rather than something that can be snuffed out completely.
But there are some solutions to reduce the risk of encounters.
Fish and Wildlife urges Californians to take care of their property to remove the things that draw coyotes out of the brush and onto the streets. This includes making sure your property is free of garbage, discarded fruit or pet food. Pets should not be fed outdoors, Fish and Wildlife says, but at the very least food should be brought in at night.
Coyotes that are spotted in human areas should be hazed, experts say. That means using audio or visual stimuli to scare them off. Suggested actions include shouting, throwing rocks, spraying with a garden hose or acting aggressively toward the coyote to reinforce its fear of people.
Those steps could go a long way in discouraging coyotes from getting cozy with humans and could save the lives of pets, children and the coyotes themselves.
The University of California has a statewide integrated pest management program that identifies a sequence of increasingly aggressive coyote behaviors. The first is increased sightings of the predator on streets and yards at night.
Over time, the animals will begin to exhibit more fearlessness, sometimes killing or attacking pets at night, followed by the same activity in the daytime, as well as hanging around children’s play areas when the sun is up.
The coyote who attacked the toddler in Woodland Hills would be considered somewhere near the final step of the sequence: acting aggressively toward humans in midday.
When coyotes reach this stage in the sequence, the only option is for them to be killed, experts say.
Problem coyotes can’t be captured and relocated, because they’ll continue to exhibit the aggressive and dangerous behavior. By moving the coyote, you are simply moving the problem.
Aggressive coyotes will be caught, captured and killed if they pose a serious threat to the public. But the average Californian can take matters into their own hands.
Coyotes have no legal protections in the state of California, which views them as non-game animals, similar to pigeons or rodents. That means they can be hunted year-round without a bag limit, as long as the hunter has a California hunting license.
Californians can hunt coyotes at night on their own property, according to Coyotehunting.us, as well as many public lands. But shooting and killing a coyote in a residential area is not recommended simply because of the risk to other people.
The methods for hunting coyotes is limited to California law, which prohibits the use of leghold traps. Chemical toxicants used to poison coyotes is also extremely restricted.
Some states offer bounty programs for killing coyotes (Utah offers $50 per documented kill), but California offers no such incentive.
Generally, it’s best to let California Fish and Wildlife or other local law enforcement agencies handle the job of eliminating problem coyotes.
Officials say there are no simple, easy solutions for dealing with the animals, but anyone who comes in contact with one is encouraged to report it. Reporting encounters is a critical part of the solution, Fish and Wildlife says.
Fish and Wildlife has no shortage of literature, guide and information about coexisting with California’s diverse wildlife, including vast resources about coyotes. It also has a Human-Wildlife Conflicts Program, which allows residents to report sightings.
While coyotes encounters are probably inevitable, officials do have tips for people looking to reduce the chance of coming face-to-face with one of them:
- Keep trash covered and sealed
- Keep your landscaping neat and clean
- Pick up fallen fruit if you have fruit trees on your property
- Clean up scattered bird seed as it attracts rodents which can attract coyotes
- Keep cats and dogs indoors at night
As for the coyote who attacked the toddler in Woodland Hills, officials are collecting DNA evidence from the attack to positively identify the animal involved.
The girl suffered some deep scratches and had to get a rabies shot, but is going to be OK, her family says.