By Nick Bell
Any given day it’s not unusual to see something on NextDoor about the latest coyote sighting. That’s because coyotes are residents of every county in Florida and they are here to stay according to Pinellas County Animal Services Director Doug Brightwell.
Coyotes are now part of the Old Northeast wildlife landscape along with more-common members such as racoons, opossums, and skunks. And as with their fellow wild neighbors, municipalities will not remove them unless they appear to have rabies or other diseases. They are naturally most active between sundown and sunup, but daytime sightings are on the rise. According to Mr. Brightwell this is mainly due to the fact they are losing their fear of humans and therefore are more comfortable prowling during daylight hours. And that’s the issue that concerns residents.
Coyotes naturally prey on smaller animals such as rats, lizards, fish, and snakes, so preying on cats and small dogs fits within their dietary spectrum. And as they lose their fear of humans, they become more apt to go after our pets. To help prevent this:
- Pets should not roam freely. Cats should be kept indoors, and small dogs should be walked on a short leash, especially at night, dusk, or dawn.
- People should use caution when walking pets in wooded areas, parks, or near heavy foliage, as these are areas where coyotes could den or rest.
- If pets are kept in a fenced area outside, the fence should be at least six feet high so that coyotes cannot easily jump over, and the bottom of the fence should be checked regularly to ensure coyotes cannot crawl underneath.
Coyotes are generally not a threat to people, says Rhonda Latour, Senior Wildlife Assistance Biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They are curious but timid animals and will generally run away if challenged. It’s important to reinforce their natural fear of humans by using hazing techniques such as yelling, throwing rocks, and using air horns or other noisemakers. Children should be taught to recognize coyotes vs. dogs and that if approached by one, they should back away slowly and yell. They should be taught not to run, which could cause the animal to chase.
NextDoor chatter often includes the question of why the city or county doesn’t initiate a program to remove or eradicate them. Local officials explain that attempting to completely eradicate coyotes from an area is not effective because coyotes can compensate by increasing litter size, reproducing at an earlier age, and new coyotes move into habitat where others have been removed. For these reasons, such removal efforts would have to be continuous, or coyote populations would quickly return to or exceed their original size.
As with many forms of wildlife, attractants such as unsecured garbage, bird seed, rats and fallen fruit are commonly what initially brings coyotes into communities. Reducing the items that attract them in the first place can reduce their presence.
Whether we like it or not, coyotes will probably be part of the Old Northeast landscape for the foreseeable future. So, practice the precautions noted above and if you see a coyote that appears mangy or unhealthy, call Pinellas County Animal Services at (727) 582-2600.