Coyote Attacks: An Increasing Suburban Problem
Coyote attacks on humans and pets have increased within the past 5 years in California. We discuss documented occurrences of coyote aggression and attacks on people, using data from USDA Wildlife Services, the California Department of Fish & Game, and other sources. Forty-eight such attacks on children and adults were verified from 1998 through 2003, compared to 41 attacks during the period 1988 through 1997; most incidents occurred in Southern California near the suburban-wildland interface. Attack incidents are typically preceded by a sequence of increasingly bold coyote behaviors, including: nighttime coyote attacks on pets; sightings of coyotes in neighborhoods at night; sightings of coyotes in morning and evening; attacks on pets during daylight hours; attacks on pets on leashes and chasing of joggers and bicyclists; and finally, mid-day sightings of coyotes in and around children’s play areas. In suburban areas, coyotes can lose their fear of humans as a result of coming to rely on ample food resources including increased numbers of rabbits and rodents, household refuse, pet food, available water from ponds and landscape irrigation run-off, and even intentional feeding of coyotes by residents. The safe environment provided by a wildlife-loving general public, who rarely display aggression toward coyotes, is also thought to be a major contributing factor. The termination or reduction of predator management programs adjacent to some urban areas has also served to contribute to coyotes’ loss of fear of humans and to a dependency on resources in the suburban environment. Corrective action can be effective if implemented before coyote attacks on pets become common. However, if environmental modification and changes in human behavior toward coyotes are delayed, then removal of offending predators by traps or shooting is required in order to resolve the threat to human safety. We note the failure of various non-lethal harassment techniques to correct the problem in situations where coyotes have become habituated to human-provided food resources. Coyote attacks on humans in suburbia are preventable, but the long-term solution of this conflict requires public education, changes in residents’ behavior, and in some situations, the means to effectively remove individual offending animals.