Coyotes have been around forever. Like, forever evah. Today’s species originated from ancestors that lived alongside saber-tooth tigers, mastodons and dire wolves. That’s some strong genetic fortitude, if you ask me.
For eons, coyotes roamed what is now the western United States, with its wide-open plains. Then came European settlers, who cut down forests for farms and ranches in a steady east-west march. Along the way, they killed large predators, such as pumas and wolves, to protect livestock and for their own safety.
The predators they obliterated were mortal enemies of the coyote, holding them in check. As mountain lions and wolf packs disappeared from the landscape, coyotes took advantage, starting a wide expansion eastward at the turn of the last century into deforested land that continues today.
Unlike mountain lions, wolves and bears that were hunted to near-extinction in state-sponsored predator-control programs, coyotes do not give in so easily. Coyotes are the ultimate American survivor. Like cockroaches and Cher, these furry little scavengers endure no matter what.
The attitude of game officials in the 1930s was to get rid of the wolves and then deal with coyotes. But all the science indicates that you can’t get rid of coyotes. It doesn’t work. They are simply too adaptable. The one thing that will reduce coyote numbers are wolves.
We don’t really have packs of wolves just lying around though. So what do we do?
What our science tells us is that local or regional trapping/eradication efforts will not be successful at trying to remove them permanently. More will just come from neighboring areas to take advantage of the plentiful food resources. The better approach is humane exclusion, deterrents and repellents.
It’s also important to remember that coyotes are also a valuable part of our ecosystem. Their presence helps to keep rodent populations down and provides free carrion removal, among other benefits. Removing coyotes from our local ecosystem would be a massive undertaking with significant detrimental ecological consequences.
Coyotes go where there are resources, and their behavior changes based on how humans react to them, so it is imperative we avoid intentionally or unintentionally providing food, water or shelter to them.
Our role doesn’t just stop there though. We also have to remind them to fear us. Consistently hazing coyotes whenever they are on our properties or near people is the only sustainable and effective way to alter unwanted behavior. We should take every opportunity to make coyotes uncomfortable by hazing them with things like loud noises (i.e. air horns, banging pots and pans), squirting them with a hose, quickly opening and closing an umbrella, etc.).
In Southern California, coyotes only grow up to about 35 pounds and do not naturally see humans (even children) as prey; their natural instinct is to fear humans, so as long as we continue to remind them of this, they will keep their distance.
Just like you wouldn’t leave your young child or pet in a crowded mall, the same principles apply when they are allowed to play outside.
Also, we don’t live in a small urban town where it’s safer for animals to freely roam. We live in a densely populated area with lots of car and pedestrian traffic. If you think it’s OK to walk your dog without a leash anywhere in Southern California, you are wrong. Walking your dog on a leash is the best defense for your pet against coyote attacks when you are out and about because it’s the only way to ensure they will stay within 6 feet of you.
Coyotes are opportunistic little buggers. This is why they have the tendency to stalk people and their pets when they are out for walks. To be clear, they are not stalking you. They are stalking your pet. They are looking for any opportunity to snatch up an evening snack, and if your pet gets even 10 feet from you off leash, an opportunity is created.
When you hear about cases of a pet being taken by a coyote when out for a walk, it is always because that pet was not on a leash or they were attached to an adjustable leash that allows them to roam farther away from you than 6 feet.
Moral of that story: walk your dogs on a 6-foot leash. Easy peasy!
As for your cats, we hope that your cats are kept indoors. But if they do go outside, we suggest an enclosed catio for safety. If you are going to allow your cat to roam freely outside, you must also accept the risk that comes with that.
The Pasadena Humane coyote flier includes some helpful tips on how to haze coyotes and prevent them from becoming too comfortable around humans. In addition, you can watch our Coyote Safety webinar recording any time by accessing this link.