It won’t be long before spring is here.
And, typically, that means coyote season. Spring is the time of year when pups are born and coyote parents more frequently are seen out hunting for extra food.
Rolled out just in time for this year’s anticipated uptick in residential coyote activity is a mobile-friendly web tool designed with a two-fold purpose: provide researchers with needed data on urban coyote behavior while also keeping neighbors connected so nearby sightings can be shared via email alerts set up by ZIP code. A map compiling the activity reports is included.
“We have a fairly high level of coyote conflict in Southern California,” said Niamh Quinn, an ecologist and biologist who developed the new web application, Coyote Cacher. “It’s potentially the highest conflict zone in the country. We’re on our fourth bite on humans this year and we’re not getting that level of conflict anywhere else in the U.S. It’s becoming a pattern in Southern California.”
Coyote Cacher, which is now available online at http://ucanr.edu/sites/CoyoteCacher/, isn’t in native app store-format just yet. More funding will be needed to make that happen, Quinn said. However, users can save the URL address to their phone or other mobile desktops for quick access. And the desktop app has been designed in a way that will make the transition to a specifically mobile, native app feasible when funding is available.
Coyote Cacher also comes up in a Google search. As for the name, “cache” refers to geocaching — used in GPS — and storing, in this case information; in the wildlife world, “cashe” is a term used to refer to animals gathering and hiding their food.
If enough users sign up, Quinn said the alerts can serve as an “Amber Alert” for neighborhood pet owners.
Building an urban coyote database
Quinn, a native of Ireland who has a doctorate in small mammal ecology and has been a UC Cooperative Extension adviser since 2014, is studying human-wildlife interactions. It’s a role that increasingly focuses on coyote activity in the area. Based in Irvine, her territory also covers Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
Her hope is that the new interactive information site will fill in many of the gaps in data that have frustrated urban coyote researchers for years.
“We don’t have any great data,” Quinn said. However, cities such as Torrance are doing a good job of gathering statistics from their own communities in the past couple of years, she added. Residents also have stepped up to provide maps on social media sites.
Still, she said, much more needs to be known about urban coyote whereabouts, behavior and diet.
Coyote population numbers, for example, remain one of the big unknowns, Quinn said.
Gathering as much of that kind of data as possible for comparison and analysis, she said, is key to developing science-based coyote management plans.
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” she said.
So she’s developed questions about coyote encounters to be included in the Coyote Cacher web application that she hopes will provide some of those missing pieces of the puzzle.
• If someone reports an attack on a domestic animal, was the pet on a leash or roaming free?
• Was direct physical contact made either with the pet or a person? Was the pet actually bitten?
• Was there an attempt to haze — or scare off — the coyote? If so, what was done and how did the coyote respond?
“Did the coyote put its tail between its legs and run away and never look back? Or did it never move and look at you waving your arms like you were crazy?” Quinn said. She added that, scientifically, it remains unclear how effective hazing is on coyotes that have been born and raised in populated neighborhoods.
Hazing as the go-to response
Along with an emphasis on education and coexistence practices, hazing is standard protocol in virtually all coyote management plans now being adopted by cities at a rapid rate. But Quinn maintains most evidence remains anecdotal and that hazing hasn’t been thoroughly or scientifically tested in a manner widespread enough to say how effective it actually is on coyotes that have become habituated to people.
Organizations such as Project Coyote, however, say hazing has been proven to be very effective and remains the best and most humane way to deal with coyotes that come too close to people, pets and their property.
Quinn also believes that targeted trapping — designed not to control the coyote population but to take out a few “bad actors” in a particular area — is effective in altering nearby coyote behavior, at least for a while.
When the Arcadia City Council on Feb. 21 approved spending $15,000 to trap and kill coyotes — changing that city’s prior no-trapping policy after recent reports of pet attacks — Project Coyote and other wildlife welfare groups led the opposition.
“Trapping with indiscriminate snares is not only cruel, but can also kill non-target animals such as family pets and other local wildlife,” said Randi Feilich of Project Coyote. “Animals caught in snares slowly suffocate or endure painful injuries, often leaving orphans to starve.”
No good ‘long-term’ options?
Torrance last year also approved targeted trapping of coyotes in several neighborhoods where problems were occurring.
“The problem is we don’t have good long-term options at the moment,” Quinn said of the growing coyote issue. “That’s why a lot of cities are turning to lethal management.”
And while coyotes often are not as active in winter, Quinn said winter activity seems to be increasing in Southern California this year.
“We’ve had bites (reported) in January and February of this year and bites into December of last year,” she said. “So our conflict season didn’t seem like it ended.”
Two coyote bites on humans were reported in Diamond Bar, one in the City of Commerce and one in the city of Orange so far in 2017, she said. None was considered serious, though the victims did have to endure a series of rabies shots as a preventive measure.
Local coyote sighting reports in February include a coyote chasing a man on a bike with his dog running alongside him around a block in Torrance (rocks thrown at the coyote finally chased the animal off) and a coyote jumping up to grab a small dog out of an owner’s arms in Manhattan Beach (the coyote dropped the dog when it shrieked).
Education: A bridge in the coyote divide
While the heated debate over trapping isn’t likely to end soon, almost all parties agree that community education is fundamental to addressing the influx of coyotes into populated neighborhoods.
The lure for what now have been generations of coyotes has been food — provided either intentionally or unintentionally by people — that is found everywhere humans live in sufficient numbers.
Keeping trash locked up, pets inside (especially at night), dogs on leash, pet food indoors and fences in good repair are all part of the basics.
“We’re talking about changing people here,” Quinn said of the challenge. She is a strong supporter of the Wildlife Watch programs and other educational materials to help residents learn how to modify their own behaviors to reduce the risk of conflicts.
Project Coyote offers its services for free to cities interested in developing a stronger network of humane coyote management.
Meanwhile, the South Bay Cities Council of Governments, a collaborative organization with representatives from area cities, is working on what would become a regional approach to coyote issues in that area.
“It’s clear that coyotes don’t know where city boundaries are, right? And everybody is having an issue” with coyotes, said Jacki Bacharach, executive director of the organization.
Taking its cues from Torrance, Bacharach said discussions for a regional plan center around conducting joint coyote education and training sessions and seminars in the future.
Several cities, including Los Angeles, also have expressed an interest in making use of the new Coyote Cacher app, Quinn said.
Tracking and learning more about the evolution of urban coyote behavior is still, in many ways, unchartered territory, she said.
“Coyotes are not coming from the hills anymore,” she said. “We have a very big (native) urban coyote population.”