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Enjoy The Outdoors, But Be Wary of Animal Encounters

Over the next few months, people getting out to enjoy warmer weather and coyotes nurturing pups may find themselves meeting each other. The chances of encounters between humans and the wild canines will be rising.

Although Calaveras County-based Department of Fish and Game warden John Stark said Wednesday there have been no reported incidents involving coyotes except, possibly, a few missing cats in the county, Fish and Game officials have seen an upswing in reported coyote encounters in other parts of the state, particularly in southern California and the inland desert areas.

“People have been saying that there are a lot of coyotes around,” Stark said. “Their population is doing well.”

Coyotes bear litters of three to nine pups during April and May. Adult animals that are caring for young need to forage more, and this can lead to increased aggressiveness.

“We´re entering the season of increased contact between people and coyotes,” said Steve Edinger, assistant chief for the department´s South Coast Region. “The Department wants to be proactive and caution people about encounters with coyotes. These are not animals to regard as pets. They are wild animals that are predators, and they should be treated with caution and respect.”

Edinger´s region includes San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and accounts for most of the reported encounters between humans and coyotes.

The coyote, a member of the dog family, is native to California. It closely resembles a small German shepherd, with the exception of a long snout and bushy, black-tipped tail. Coyotes are extremely adaptable and resourceful, and can survive on whatever food is available. They prey on rabbits, mice, birds and other small animals, as well as young deer and sheep. In urban areas, coyotes have attacked small pets, including cats and dogs, and have attacked small children as well.

According to “Coyote Attacks: An Increasing Suburban Problem,” a paper by Robert M. Timm, Rex O. Baker, Joe R. Bennett and Craig C. Coolahan that was presented in March at the 69th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Spokane, there have been 89 coyote attacks on humans in California between the late 1970s and December 2003. About 79 percent of the attacks have occurred in the past decade, indicating that the problem is increasing, the report said.

“Of the attacks on children and adults … 63 percent occurred during the season when adult coyotes would most likely be provisioning pups or experiencing increased food demands because of the female´s gestation (March through August), while 37 percent of attacks occurred during the other six months of the year (September through February),” the report stated. “Alternatively, this seasonality in attacks could be related to other behaviors associated with territoriality, reproduction, and defense of den sites and/or pups.”

The Department of Fish and Game does not collect statistics on coyote attacks, but Mike McBride, assistant chief for department´s Eastern Sierra-Inland Desert Region, said his office continues to receive numerous calls about coyotes coming into urban areas.

“This is the time of year when we´ve seen coyotes become more territorial,” McBride said. “We´ve had calls of people out walking their dogs when coyotes have become aggressive.”

The department´s senior wildlife biologist, Doug Updike, said that coyotes are adaptable predators, found in most open habitats. They are tolerant of human activities, and adapt and adjust rapidly to changes in their environment. As a coyote pup grows older and there becomes more competition for its source of food, it is likely the animal´s natural aversion to people will change. The biggest problems occur when people feed coyotes. Deliberately feeding coyotes puts pets and other residents in the neighborhood at risk. People often feed coyotes inadvertently by leaving pet food or garbage where they can get it.

The Department of Fish and Game provides guidelines to help people avoid problems with coyotes.

Never feed a coyote. Feed pets indoors or promptly remove outdoor dishes, bring bird feeders in at night, store bags of pet food indoors, and use trashcans with lids that clamp shut.

Clear brush and dense weeds from around dwellings to make the area less attractive to rodents and to reduce protective cover for coyotes. Areas where rodents concentrate, such as woodpiles and seed storage areas, attract coyotes as well as other predators.

Although incidents are rare, coyotes have been known to seriously injure young children. Never leave children unattended in areas that coyotes are known frequent – even familiar surroundings, such as backyards.

Keep small pets – such as cats and small dogs – indoors, especially at night, and provide secure enclosures for rabbits and poultry. They are easy, favored prey. Coyotes have been responsible for the disappearance of large numbers of cats in residential neighborhoods.

If coyotes are present, make sure they know they are not welcome. Make loud noises, throw rocks, or spray them with a garden hose. To keep coyotes wild or to prevent them becoming habituated to humans, it is important that coyotes retain their natural wariness of humans.

Most coyote sightings can be reported to local animal control officials, but if a coyote acts aggressively or attacks people, call 9-1-1, or game warden Stark at 772-1859.

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