2012-03-08 / Community

An opportunity to learn about coyotes

By Sylvie Belmond

Calabasas is taking an innovative approach in helping humans and coyotes coexist.

After halting the spending of city funds to trap coyotes last year, the city developed a public education campaign and a coyote management plan to teach people how to protect themselves and their pets from the predator.

About 150 people attended a workshop in the Calabasas Library Founders Hall on Feb. 27 to hear tips from three wildlife experts about coyote behavior and to learn how to avoid unwanted encounters with the wild canine neighbors.

“This involves decreasing attractants, increasing pet safety and creating reasonable expectations of normal coyote behavior,” said Alex Farassati, the city’s environmental services supervisor.

Farassati said the city has received 48 coyote-related complaints since 2003, but none of the encounters involved a human attack.

But a child in Glendale was killed by a coyote in the early 1980s, Seth Riley, a National Park Service ranger and biologist, said.

Riley said NPS has been studying the habits of carnivores in the Santa Monica Mountains urban recreation area to better understand their behavior.

Studies conducted between 1996 and 2004 involving 130 coyotes showed the animals frequently travelling through populated and partially populated areas to reach pockets of undeveloped land.

The home range of a female coyote collared with a tracking device in Cheeseboro Canyon extended far into the San Fernando Valley, one study showed.

“Every time we located her she was either at Pierce College or in the Sepulveda basin,” Riley said, indicating that coyotes are most active at dusk and dawn in their never ending search of food.

Unlike the dwindling mountain lion population, coyotes continue to thrive because they’re able to adapt to human activities.

Coyotes primarily eat rabbits, gophers, squirrels and other small mammals, as well as insects and fruits.

“During the dry season, about 60 percent of a coyote’s scat contains fruit. Cats, pet food and trash make up a very small percentage of their diet,” Riley said.

Of the 60 dead coyotes found between 1997 and 2004, experts determined that 22 were struck by vehicles, 14 succumbed to anticoagulants, six were killed by other predators and three were shot. The cause of death for the others was undetermined.

Cindy Reyes, executive director of the California Wildlife Center that rehabilitates orphaned and injured animals, said rodent bait stations containing poison should be avoided because predators eat the rodents that have eaten poison.

“I can’t say it enough. Never, ever use poison. You may intend to poison the rat that comes after the fruit in your backyard, but it causes so many problems for wildlife,” Reyes said.

Trash and compost bins should be kept inside or sealed tightly. Ammonia and cayenne pepper can be also used to keep animals away from the receptacles.

Coyotes are always on the lookout for easy food sources and calories.

“It’s their motivation in life,” Reyes said.

To reduce potential conflicts between coyotes and humans, people should keep all food indoors and eliminate water sources. By feeding other wildlife, such as squirrels and birds, people are inadvertently attracting coyotes.

Because coyotes have become comfortable with humans, it’s okay for people to throw objects at them to scare them away, but they should never run from a coyote because the action might trigger the animal’s predator instincts.

“If you encounter a coyote, make loud noises, wave your hands and arms, or spray the coyote with a hose,” Reyes said, adding that these hazing tactics should continue until the coyote retreats.

Residents living near open spaces can use motion-activated lights and noise to scare the animals away.

The most dangerous coyotes are those that are no longer wary of humans, said Camilla Fox of Project Coyote, a nonprofit organization promoting coexistence between people and coyotes.

Thus, “dealing with coyotes is a community effort,” said Fox, stressing that people should eliminate food sources and save their intimidation techniques for only the most daring and habituated animals. Tips for warding off coyotes and information about the predator’s habits are posted on the City of Calabasas website, www.cityofcalabasas.com.

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