Experts Advocate Compassionate Coexistence with Coyotes
• Learning to Live Peaceably with Wildlife Is the New Paradigm for One of Malibu's Neighbors
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
More than 100 people packed the Calabasas Library's Founders Room on Monday night, to hear a City of Calabasas-sponsored presentation about co-existing with coyotes.
The City of Calabasas passed an ordinance in 2011, officially changing its policy on coyotes from trapping and killing, to coexistence through education.
Three experts on coyote behavior spoke at the event: National Park Service biologist Seth Riley, who is also an adjunct professor for UCLA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and is researching urban carnivores in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, California Wildlife Center Executive Director Cindy Reyes, and Project Coyote Executive Director Camilla Fox, who is also a wildlife consultant with the Animal Welfare Institute.
The message was clear: coyotes are here to stay and human residents need to learn to coexist safely by not providing access to food sources and by humanely reinforcing the coyotes' instinctive fear of humans.
"My work is trying to understand impacts of urbanization on wildlife," Riley said. "I work for the NPS. Some of the best wildlife habitat is in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The challenge is in a park right next to the largest urban area.
"What are the impacts of fragmentation and urbanization? We are an unusual park, surrounded by the Los Angeles Basin and the San Fernando Valley. Only about half the land in the park boundary is publicly owned. It's a very challenging environment to preserve wildlife, especially carnivores. Carnivores need a huge amount of space. One thing that is really great is we still have a huge diversity of wildlife."
The NPS has been studying urban carnivore populations in the SMMNRA since 1996, using a combination of radio telemetry, remote cameras and analysis of scat. Coyote research includes gathering data on home range size, diet, mortality and disease.
"L.A. Coyotes are one of the oldest urban coyote population anywhere," Riley said. "A lot of information that's out there really doesn't teach us much about urban coyotes. It's anecdotal."
The NPS study conducted between 1996-04 involved capturing 130 coyotes and radio collaring 110. "The vast majority of time [coyotes] are in natural areas," Riley said, showing maps that plot the animals progress through urban areas to pockets of wild or less developed land. "Studies have shown that even in highly urbanized areas coyotes find fragments of open space, avoiding the urban area in their home range."
Riley's research indicates that coyotes in developed areas are much more likely to be active in the night-often 10 p.m.-5 a.m. Their diet—in order of frequency—consists of fruit, rabbits, woodrats, pocket gophers, voles, squirrels, other small mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, deer and trash. Domestic cat and dog food were at the bottom of the list.
"Cats are one percent—not a major part of what they are eating," Riley said. "Dog food is very low, trash is 10 percent. Domestic animals are not a major source of food in urban areas."
According to Riley, the most common cause of coyote mortality is blunt force trauma from vehicles. Secondary poisoning from rodenticide is the number two cause of death.
"The survival rate of coyotes is actually pretty high," Riley said. "The one-year survival rate is 75 percent. Survival rates between urban and non-urban is similar."
Of the 110 coyotes in the radio telemetry study conducted between 1996-2004 there were 60 deaths in a five year period: 22 animals were struck by cars, 14 died of rat poison, three were shot, six were prey for other animals and one was classified as "other."
Reyes concurred, stating that the majority of coyote emergency calls that the California Wildlife Center receives involve vehicle strikes, secondary poisoning and bullet wounds.
"We ensure that coyotes that come in [to the center for treatment] leave the center as wild or wilder," Reyes said.
"Are you inadvertently feeding coyotes?" Reyes asked. "Never intentionally feed coyotes, as this encourages habituation and interaction with humans. Feed pets inside. If you must feed outside do not leave uneaten food. Coyotes are all about food, easy calories."
According to Reyes, water also attracts coyotes. She recommends eliminating or securing outdoor pet water bowls, covering pools, and fencing fountains and koi ponds.
Fruit trees also attract coyotes. Reyes recommends picking fruit as it ripens and cleaning up any ripe fruit that has fallen.
"Make sure trash and compost is secured," Reyes said, adding that sprinkling cayenne pepper or ammonia on trash may help discourage coyotes.
"Bird feeders attract rodents, which attract coyotes," Reyes said. "Bird feeders can be called the root of all evil. If you need to have a bird feeder in your life make sure you clean up fallen seed and place high enough off the ground. If you are feeding one type of animal you are choosing to feed all types of animals."
"I can't say it strongly enough, never, ever use poison to control wildlife. Secondary rodenticide toxicity, and sarcoptic mange [caused by poisoning] is a huge problem right now. We are seeing huge levels of toxins in the system. Owls, hawks, bobcats, all come in with poison symptoms. Rat poison is not a good option."
Reyes also suggested that residents protect pets and children. "From dawn and dusk small dogs and small children shouldn't be allowed to roam free without supervision," she said. "Have some kind of roofed enclosure if you must leave a small pet out Keep dogs on a short leash. If you are approached by a coyote pick up small dogs. With a large dog, remove the dog from the area and initiate coyote hazing."
"Cats are a bane on the wildlife world," Reyes said. "One cat brings home 50 wild animals a year and that's just the ones they bring home. Keep them inside. Cats who are indoor cats have much longer, healthy lives."
Reyes also recommended that chickens, ducks, rabbits and livestock should be secured in heavy-duty wire cages and pens. Coyote roll guard, which fits on top of chain link or other fencing material can help homeowners keep several species of wildlife out humanely. Reyes also recommended motion-activated sprinklers as a deterrent.
Fox provided information on the process of hazing.
"Hazing is a component of the Calabasas management plan," Fox said. "It's a way to attempt to change behavior of habituated coyotes—also known as fear conditioning—to reinstate the natural fear coyotes have around people. Habituated coyotes have lost fear."
Fox explained that coyotes communicate through vocalization, scent marking and variety of body displays and that 95 percent of their behavior is almost identical to that of domestic members of the dog family.
"Their families are very similar to our families," she said. "They are very family oriented. You start to see these expressions that are clearly social: love and caring amongst each other.
Fox said that understanding that and recognizing similar behavior with domestic dogs can help nervous residents control their fear and understand coyotes better. "Just like your dog, they are curious and interested," she said.
"Urban coyote management is largely about urban people management," Fox said. "I can't reiterate too many times: Do not feed coyotes. Remove attractants. Do not allow pets to roam. Keep cats inside. Use short leashes. [Retractable] leashes can be a real problem with small dogs if you lose sight or are in a brushy area.
"A fed coyote is a dead coyote," Fox said. "We are habituating them and that can lead to their removal.
Fox offered simple coyote hazing advice. "The first thing is to be big, bad and loud," she said. Make eye contact. That's very important. They hear human noises all the time. What we want is negative stimuli. Coyotes, like our dogs, may test us. Be big bad and noisy. Don't run and don't stop until the coyote retreats. That's really, really critical."
Fox recommends using a rattle made out of an empty can containing a handful of pennies, whistles, air horns, and pop-up umbrellas.
She stresses that the goal is to frighten the coyote, not harm it or harass it. "There's a difference between hazing versus harassment. Most of the time coyotes coexist and aren't a problem," she said.
"I want to stress that coexisting with all of our wild neighbors is a community effort.
"Even if you are cleaning up your yard and your neighbor could be feeding wildlife. It can be problem for the whole community. Unless there is a local law against wildlife feeding its very difficult to stop."
"These animals actually provide many ecological services. They consume rodents. They really are part of our ecosystem and we need to learn to coexist.
More information on coyote coexistence is available at www.projectcoyote.com.
Malibu residents are encouraged to report injured or sick coyotes to the California Wildlife Center at 818-591-WILD.