Will a ‘Trap and Release’ Plan for Coyotes Stop Attacks on Humans and Pets?

ANIMAL WATCH--On October 3, Councilman Mitchell Englander, a member of the Council’s Personnel and Animal Welfare (PAW) Committee, introduced a motion (CF-16-0585-S2), based on "an increase in coyote sightings in parks, open spaces and neighborhoods endangering all people, especially children."  

The motion was co-presented by Committee Chair Paul Koretz and calls for Los Angeles Animal Services to take a more proactive approach to coyote management and develop alternatives, including a program for the ‘trap and release’ of wild coyotes discovered near populated areas of the city. 

"Trap and release is the most effective, humane way to address the challenge of wild coyotes in our communities. By capturing the animal and returning it to the wild we protect both the safety of residents and the animal itself," the motion claims. 

L.A. Animal Services' education program instructs residents to avoid actions that may invite coyotes to their community or their property; such as providing water, food, and brushy areas where they can hide or create a den, but, despite this, problems with coyotes persist and in some cases have gotten worse, Englander states. 

The motion quotes Wildlife Specialist Robert Timm, who explained that 'aggression   increases as coyotes lose their fear of humans.' It also cited dangers of disease which can be transmitted to humans and domestic pets and that coyotes carry parasites. 

In order to protect the safety of neighborhoods and residents, the Department of Animal Services must take a more proactive approach when it comes to coyote management. This legislation directs the department "to report on regulations, current practices and alternative options for coyote management, including a trap and release coyote management plan." 

According to ABC7 News, some animal-rights groups have already indicated they will oppose Englander's motion, saying it is the wrong approach and it also violates state law. 

An advocate for Project Coyote blamed the intrusion of this stealth canine predator on humans building homes in its territory and feeding wildlife. 

SAME OLD MOTION, NO NEW TEETH 

On May 24, 2016, a similarly indignant motion was introduced (CF 16-0585) by Councilman Joe Buscaino and Paul Koretz, instructing L.A. Animal Services to provide a detailed plan on the Department's Coyote Management program and recommendations for improvements. At that time, it stated, “The California Department of Fish and Game estimates that there may be up to 750,000 coyotes roaming the State of California.” 

GM Brenda Barnette filed a 20-page report that anticipated no notable change in L.A. Animal Services' protocols or inertia--which had been blamed at a series of community meetings for allowing the expanding coyote problems. Some residents reported that, although Barnette attended initial meetings and took notes, they did not receive responses to their questions. 

The report was noted and filed and there has been no expressed interest nor follow up by City officials, until now, when the season for coyote pups to start hunting independently begins and typically results in more sightings and attacks. 

IT IS HARD TO TAKE THE L.A. CITY COUNCIL SERIOUSLY 

Either Mitch Englander is just going through the motions of getting tough on this problem to appease alarmed constituents, or his staff failed to research the effectiveness and legality of “Trap and Release,” which is far more than just picking up an errant or aggressive coyote and “returning it to the wild.” Trap-and-release programs always have a component of euthanasia in order to remove coyotes that are acting aggressively or are verified by DNA swabs to have attacked. 

And, what does the Councilman perceives as "the wild" in the San Fernando Valley  Was he made aware that a coyote can travel many miles very quickly to return to its territory? (They've been clocked at running 47 mph.) 

Another key question is, exactly which part of "trap and release" will modify the coyote's behavior?  The coyote doesn't realize it is being punished by transport; only that its survival is threatened in a strange location.  

This plan is rife with humane and health concerns. The Urban Coyote Research Projectfound that an urban coyote pack usually maintains a territory of from 2.5 square miles to 4.3 square miles. The nature of animals is to be territorial and, in the case of wildlife, the intrusion by an outsider of the same species is a threat to the available food supply and survival of the existing pack. Therefore, any stranger will usually either be chased away or killed. Nature is brutal despite the warm-and-fuzzy “coexistence” ads! 

Also, it is unlikely that CA Fish and Game will sign an agreement to allow coyotes to be relocated because many are ill, carrying  diseases, including rabies--although symptoms may not be apparent. Thus, trapping,  transporting and releasing presents the danger of introducing diseases into a healthy pack. 

The high risk of disease transmission, bites or other injuries to staff is also a danger in handling, examining or confining coyotes in a shelter or at a veterinary clinic. 

Another problem with Councilman Englanders’ plan is the difficulty of trapping an adult coyote, and especially a healthy, aggressive animal—the ones that pose the greatest threat to human and pet safety. They aren't called "Wiley," nor have they survived since the Pleistocene era, by walking into traps! 

Sick coyotes are also a public health/safety danger and can be just as difficult to trap. Sick animals must be euthanized. They are often lethargic or weakened by disease and/or parasites and are seen wandering in traffic during daytime. Although it is disturbing and heartbreaking to see them suffering or in danger, officials warn that they should not be approached, other than by animal control officers. 

LOS ANGELES URBAN COYOTES ARE AT HOME 

Prior to 1994, trapping and shooting coyotes was the accepted way of maintaining distance from humans in Southern CA. Experts say that only removing a few of the most aggressive coyotes sends a warning to others to stay away from the area, and it works for a certain period of time--until some of the more timid coyotes assume the leadership role. However, after this was prohibited in Los Angeles by the City Council, there has been no impediment to their territoriality. 

 Renowned Wildlife Specialist Robert Timm, who studied coyote patterns and behavior during that time, was quoted in Councilman Englander’s motion warning that ‘aggression increases as coyotes lose their fear of humans."   

Timm also wrote, "Southern Californians have provided them an environment rich in food resources and sometimes fed them, perhaps out of a developing 'Disney mentality' toward wildlife." 

THEORIES ON COYOTE AGGRESSION 

In 2015, L.A. County Public Health Department reported that 12 people were bitten by coyotes in Elysian Park in the city of Los Angeles in a period of five months. In one incident, a person was bitten while trying to stop a coyote from attacking a dog. But in other cases the coyote approached humans directly. People were bitten while stargazing, lying on the ground or jogging. Kids were bitten while playing in a playground. 

"Prior to that, we’d rarely see attacks on people," said Karen Ehnert, the chief veterinarian for Public Health. "Now we’ve been hearing about them where it’s totally unprovoked…that’s just not normal behavior for wild animals; they should be afraid of people." 

Scientists don’t know why coyotes lose their fear of people. But there are theories. One is that because urban coyotes constantly see people and we don’t frighten them away or try to hurt them, they slowly get used to us. Over time, that can lead to the animals becoming aggressive. 

So it appears L.A. cannot turn back the tide--our coyotes are “urban” coyotes, born among humans and essentially devoid of their instinctual fear of them.  Our territory is their territory and there is an entitlement—which includes  your yard, your pets, and anything edible. 

CA law states that wildlife cannot be relocated without the permission of the Department of Fish and Game. It cannot usually be determined whether a trapped coyote which poses a threat is in his own territory or has strayed many miles. The question then becomes, “Whose safety prevails in this type of dispute?  

SHOULD  ENGLANDER HAVE CLAIMED TO HAVE THE ANSWER? 

The Councilman was undoubtedly responding to heightened fears among his constituents, reported by the Daily News, "Coyote sightings in the San Fernando Valley raise concerns among residents."   

L.A. Animal Services' officers and other officials met with about 20 residents in Chatsworth "to share tips and tricks” on keeping coyotes away from city and suburban neighborhoods. The meeting was in response to increasing reports of coyote sightings and more emboldened acts by coyotes. 

A Northridge resident said two coyotes recently entered his yard, where his three small senior dogs were waiting for him to prepare their breakfast. He heard their screams from inside the house but could not respond quickly enough to stop the deadly attack. “[The dogs] are little, yes, but I’ve considered this area safe,” he said. “That was a mistake.” Increased reporting of such incidents in the San Fernando Valley have resulted in residents desperately looking for a solution. 

 “The original talk was about how to live with wildlife,” LA Animal Control Officer Owen told about attendees, “It’s not about how to get rid of wildlife.” 

Owen admitted, according to the Daily News, that, "A lot of people want them gone," but he warned, "If they get rid of the coyotes, it goes down the chain reaction. You’re going to have a ton of raccoons, squirrels [and] rabbits.”  It appears that many residents are reaching the point where that alternative doesn't sound bad at all. 

Others at the meeting told similar tales of attacks/deaths of pets, threats and concern for their own and their families' safety. They also expressed frustration at continually being told they are responsible for the presence of the coyotes and that they need to make loud noises to scare them away, avoid leaving pet food out, remove trash or shrubs and walk with their pets on leashes. As is happening all across the U.S., residents of highly populated city areas report that they are doing all these things but the coyotes are still becoming bolder. 

They are increasingly worried about the future of their pets, children, and their own safety. Angelenos are accustomed to knowing coyotes exist nearby, but the difference now, according to some residents, is that the animals are lingering, defending their turf rather than running away. 

And, at this meeting, alarmed residents and taxpayers--asking for help--were again advised to buy blow-horns, sprinkle cayenne pepper or chili powder on common coyote areas, and make themselves appear bigger and louder. 

LA IGNORES ITS OWN COYOTE RULES WITH FERAL CAT (TNR) PLAN 

Project Coyote, a nonprofit that promotes coexistence with coyotes and whose spokespersons are supposedly experts, advocates learning to co-exist with coyotes and other wildlife as the best solution to the problem.

The group purports that residents also should be taught the important role coyotes play in maintaining a habitat’s ecological balance by eating rodents and unsocial animals such as skunks and that they also play an important role in preserving bird populations.

Domestic cats are another coyote favorite, says Camille Fox of Project Coyote, so cats should be kept indoors.

The Department of Animal Services and the City Council is conveniently overlooking the fact that, urged by Mayor Eric Garcetti, Paul Koretz and LAAS GM Brenda Barnette, the City is currently paying a reported $1.3 million (up from $800,000) for an EIR by the Bureau of Engineering to allow feral cats to be fed in colonies of dozens or hundreds on public property adjacent to private residences/businesses in any community in the City. 

This is exactly, according to experts, what attracts coyotes to a location to partake in the easy dinner, which may include the cats themselves and rodents and other wildlife attracted to the available food.

(See:  LA's Animal Services Chief Thinks $800,000 Feral Cat Study is a Budget Priority. 

LITTLE SCIENCE TO FORMULATE COYOTE POLICIES

A May 5, 2017, KPCC broadcast by Emily Guerin should be heard in its entirety because it is filled with expert opinions on both sides. Here are a few excerpts from, “With little science, cities struggle to formulate coyote policies.” 

Emily Guerin interviewed an Arcadia resident who was with her two Yorkies in her backyard and she leaned over to fix a sprinkler. She heard her dog shriek and got up and turned around to see a coyote had jumped over the yard's five-foot wall, snatched one of her dogs, and disappeared. "There is a new breed of coyote in the neighborhood," the Yorkie owner told the Arcadia city council. They are smart and cunning. They are bold and fearless." 

There are indisputably more reported coyote attacks in and around the Los Angeles area, but experts say the problem with drawing the conclusion that the coyotes are becoming more dangerous is that there's no science to back it up. 

Dr. Niamh Quinn, the coyote researcher with UC Cooperative Extension in Irvine, who created a coyote-tracking app, told KPCC that cities, county and state agencies that do track complaints or coyote bites, have little standardization in the collection of information, making it very hard to look for trends. She hopes most Southern California cities will adopt her app. "From a scientific point of view, if you’re not asking the same questions, you can’t really analyze it," she said  

ARE COYOTES ADAPTING TO US OR ARE WE ADAPTING TO THEM? 

A compelling article by L.A. Times reporter Louis.Sahagun, on March 23, 2018, how do coyotes thrive in urban Southern California? can help us understand how coyotes are surviving in urban areas. 

Sahagun interviewed the team of researchers led by Dr. Niamh Quinn, UC Cooperative Extension's human-wildlife interactions advisor, who for more than a year has been cataloging the contents of the stomachs of local urban coyotes and  recording data to determine what Southern California coyotes are ingesting. 

By studying the stomach contents of coyotes who died from unknown causes, were hit by cars etc., the team has discovered samplings of snakes, paws, tales, plastic, pocket gophers, cats and even a hiking boot, minus the rubber sole, and much more.  

Dr. Quinn concluded, “This much is clear. Coyotes aren’t struggling in our urban environments.  They are almost everywhere, continually learning to adopt alongside us.” 

Sahaguan also discussed The Coyote Cacher, a UC Cooperative Extension web application (mentioned in the KPCC interview above) developed by Dr. Quinn which allows her to receive reports of coyote sightings throughout California and let users see when and where they occurred.  She stated that information collected so far indicates that Los Angeles and Orange counties are among the highest coyote conflict zones in the state. 

The motive behind all these attacks is unclear,” Dr. Quinn stated, “it may be that we are living with coyotes, or they are living with us.  Right now, we are not sure.” 

Cal State Fullerton biology professor Paul Step told Sahagun, “We’re making the case that Southern California coyotes, by adapting to life in a metropolis, behave differently than those found elsewhere.”   

WHEN THE CAT DOESN'T COME BACK (by DOUG McINTYRE) 

I cannot end this article without mention of the suffering experienced by respected and beloved Daily News columnist and AM 790 KABC talk show host , Doug McIntyre, after the loss of his cat, Junior, to a coyote. 

Doug starts his July 9, 2018, Daily News column,"I had to wait to write this one.

On June 10th, a Sunday, with The Wife out of town, I awoke at 8:50 a.m., which is a little late for me. Odder still, Junior the Cat was asleep at my feet. Junior is normally up before the sun, demanding breakfast, so it was notable he had slept in. Still, when I got up to push the perk button on the coffee maker, Junior followed. I threw a scoop of kibble in his bowl but he opted instead to make his first trip of the day outdoors. Sometimes he does this...." 

He describes the agony of waiting for Junior to come home, calling to him at every rustle of the wind or small noise near the door. And, the next day, his wife learning that a coyote was seen carrying Junior in its mouth. 

The panic, anxiety, horrible rush of reality and then emptiness he describes mirror the feelings of all who lose a beloved four-legged family member in this way. Our hearts go out to Doug McIntyre and his wife and to all those who have lost pets to the silent predators now 'peacefully co-existing' among us. 

WILL THE CITY COUNCIL GRANDSTAND OR TAKE ACTION? 

Will Councilman Englander"s motion motivate the City Council to protect Los Angeles' families and pets from coyotes? Or in two years will another Councilman who wants to retain favor with voters issue a similar motion admonishing L.A. Animal Services for not doing its job--or, at least, not doing it well, and then "note and file" the report. 

Certainly not all control over wildlife is local, but taxpayers deserve to have accurate and available statistics kept on coyote sightings and attacks in the City so that solutions can be reached and workable wildlife programs enacted to bring safety to our communities. Obviously, the current "experts" at L.A. Animal Services lack either the expertise or the heart.