Coyotes only following their instincts

February 28, 2010 

The last column, featuring coyotes, drew comments from readers with cats.

They argued that their pets can control voles and mice; that cats should be able to go outside without owners worrying about predators, and that coyotes can pose a danger to humans.

It’s the traditional pet vs. predator conundrum or, in extremely rare cases, predator vs. human.

Washington had no documented coyote attacks on humans until April 2006, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Two coyotes in Bellevue were killed after two young children were bitten.

In other states, studies indicate attacks on pets might precede more serious conflicts with humans, and attacks might be related to coyotes associating food with humans and having less fear of humans.

Coyotes are creatures of habit with predictable routes, sometimes trails, greenbelts, stream corridors or yards, according to a University of Washington study.

Researchers followed coyotes at night as they went in and out of residential yards looking for cats.

Although they usually hunt alone, reports have shown culinary teamwork, including one coyote distracting prey while the other attacks from behind.

Coyotes hunt at night but are most active around dawn and dusk when their prey is most active. They vary their hunting technique depending on the prey: sitting at a rabbit hole and waiting for it to pop out; or hearing mice moving and jumping on them.

If coyotes just lurked around at the edge of yards and howled in parks, conflicts would be fewer. But they follow the hunger-must-be-fed rule and can’t understand the concept of pets.

Their nature leads to complaints from bereaved owners or people who are afraid for their pets.

Sean Carrell, problem-wildlife coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, tries the educational approach with angry or scared callers, suggesting that by limiting outside food sources, pet owners can help control the problem.

“By attracting wildlife to dog food left outside, they also attract predators who hunt the wildlife. I try to show that their actions may be contributing. I suggest that they bring in their cats and small dogs at night.”

This is not always received well. Carrell recalled one Lakewood woman’s reaction: “She said, ‘It’s my right. I want to allow my cat and dog outside.’ ”

It’s hard to find a compromise when residents, knowing coyotes are nearby, let their cats roam into danger.

Ironically, cats are hunters and kill a huge number of birds each year, including threatened species. Owners want to leave cats outdoors to follow their own killer instincts but want the predator that they own protected.

Carrell tells the story of a man with a bear problem. It turns out he was filleting fish in his backyard and tossing the guts into the bushes. He took Carrell’s advice and stopped tossing fish parts into the bushes.

Later he called Carrell and said: “You know what? The problem went away.”

Coyotes won’t go away, but if we understand their nature, take responsibility for our actions and don’t put pets in harm’s way, coexisting is not out of the question.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www. songandword.com.

STEPS TO TAKE

 • Keep compost bins covered, garbage can lids secured, pet food and water bowls inside.

 • Do not leave small pets out at night unless they’re in a secure shelter. Coyotes can dig under fences.

 • Discourage den-making by closing off your home’s crawl space.

 • Feed birds in feeders, not on the ground; clean up spilled seed that draws rodents, and thus coyotes.

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