Thursday an Associated Press story described how a coyote attacked a 2-year-old girl in her front yard in Southern California.
The mother rescued her child and the coyote ran off. It was the third time in five days a coyote has posed a threat to a small child in Southern California. On May 2 another 2-year-old girl was attacked in Alterra Park in Chino Hills, 30 miles east of L. A. And a coyote went after another toddler in the same park on May 4. All three children suffered non life-threatening injuries.
You can read the entire story here:
I don’t know of any similar attacks in Northern California. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen here. As we fill up dwindling local open spaces with our houses and malls, we’re thrown almost daily into closer and closer contact with our wild neighbors.
My good friend Camilla Fox is one of the most knowledgeable coyote experts I know. She’s a nationally recognized expert in her field and has worked for several nonprofit organizations including Fur-Bearer Defenders, Rainforest Action Network, and most recently the Animal Protection Institute where she served as both Director of Wildlife Programs and National Campaign Director for 10 years. She has also served as an appointed member of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Services Advisory Committee.
Here’s what Camilla has to say about the above coyote attacks:
These occurrences are very unfortunate for all involved and speak to the need for more discussion about what it means to live and coexist with wildlife, particularly at the urban/wildland interface where human-wildlife conflicts are often most concentrated. These particular incidents deserve examination of the situational and contextual circumstances involved.
Questions and issues that need to be addressed and considered:
— Were these coyotes being intentionally or unintentionally fed in these areas? Most coyote-human attacks stem from coyotes becoming habituated to human food sources either through intentional or unintentional feeding by people.
— Like other wild animals, coyotes will seek alternative food sources if their normal prey base is depleted. Moreover, during times of drought, coyotes and other wild animals will seek human sources of water. Such environmental conditions frequently lead to coyotes, bears, and other wild animals coming into humanized landscapes in search of food and/or water, escalating the potential for human-wildlife conflicts.
— The coyote that attacked the girl at Alterra Park near Chino Hills State Park was reportedly injured and suffering from a broken leg. Whenever an animal is injured or otherwise compromised, that animal will be more prone to manifesting aberrant behavior such as seeking alternative prey that is easier to obtain. For a coyote with a broken leg, seeking normal prey like rabbits and rodents is much more difficult than anthropogenic food sources.
Picnic food scraps are generally prevalent at playgrounds and media reports indicate the injured coyote had likely become accustomed to seeking food in this area.
— Aerial photographs indicate that Alterra Park near Chino Hills State Park is surrounded by open space and wildlife habitat; the area encompasses thousands of acres spanning nearly 31 miles. Moreover, trees and greenery near the sand box and playground where the little girl was attacked provide perfect cover for wild animals. Park officials should have responded immediately upon the first call of an injured coyote exhibiting aberrant behavior in the area.
According to media reports, even though several calls had been made about aberrant coyote behavior by the injured coyote, no action was taken. Any injured animal suffering from a broken leg should have been immediately captured and either taken to a rehabilitation facility or euthanized if deemed a public safety hazard. Moreover, an immediate and proactive public education campaign should have been promulgated to alert playground and park visitors to the presence of coyotes and proper human behavior and reporting if coyotes are seen in the area and exhibiting aberrant behavior.
— Had proactive actions been taken immediately upon the first call, this might have prevented the attack and spared the life of the two additional coyotes that were killed in the process of trappers trying to catch and kill the offending individual. Instead, at least three coyotes were killed — two of whom were likely innocent.
— While not reducing the significance of this attack and the trauma this caused for both the child and her family, it’s important that people maintain perspective on the likelihood of such an encounter. For example, more than 3 million children are bitten by dogs every year and about 17 people are killed annually by domestic dogs in the United States, while only one person has been reported killed by a coyote in recorded history.
These unfortunate stories highlight the need for more proactive public education and outreach about coexisting with wildlife and ways that individuals and communities can mitigate negative encounters. Like it or not, coyotes are here to stay and when serious conflicts do arise, they are often directly linked to people intentionally or unintentionally feeding coyotes (and other wild animals).
Feeding is often the source of bold coyote behavior, which almost inevitably leads to the killing of that animal (and/or others in the area). If local ordinances or bylaws exist that restrict the feeding of wildlife, law enforcement officials must prosecute violators. If such laws do not exist, then concerned citizens and public officials should enact legislation and enforce it.
Aversive conditioning — the use of negative stimuli such as pellet or paintball guns, rubber slugs, or horn blasting to stop certain behaviors — has also been employed by some municipalities and agencies and deserves further study.
Ultimately, proactive and consistent public education and outreach to residents through community newsletters, television and radio public service announcements, signage, utility bill inserts, and public educational forums is imperative to establishing effective wildlife coexistence programs. (Camilla H. Fox, Wildlife Consultant, Larkspur, Calif.)
I know this is a lot to digest at one sitting, but the subject is an important one. Please take the time to read all this carefully, including the link to the above A. P. news story. Digest it, and then let me know what you think.
As Camilla says, like it or not, coyotes are here to stay. We need to learn to get along with our wild neighbors. My thanks to Camilla for lending her expertise to give us a hand in this important endeavor. /Gary