Bold, brazen coyotes spread fear in Southern California as they seek fast, easy food

Linda DeVore nearly lost Teddy to a coyote two weeks ago.

A Shih Tzu dog, Teddy had just gone out the doggy door to do his business the morning of Monday, June 17. Moments later, DeVore, 65, walked outside her Menifee mobile home to find Teddy in the clutches of a coyote the size of a German shepherd.

“When he heard me at the back door he dropped Ted,” she said. But not before taking a huge bite out of the dog’s throat.

The attack was the latest on a small pet at the 265-space Hillside Mobile Home Estates. Teddy survived. Other residents’ pets — like Mike Cooper’s orange tabby cat Meow Meow and Pomeranian dog Sassie — did not.

And it was among the latest coyote sightings and attacks across the Inland Empire, where residents and others say the wild animals’ activity is on the rise.

“The coyotes are getting ridiculous,” said Hillside resident Donna Gardner, 67.

“They live in the trailer park. They have decided that this is their home,” she said. “But it gets annoying when they come into your yard and eat your animals.”

These last two weeks have been busy as well for Redlands coyote trapper Lowell Miller in San Bernardino County.

“I just removed a trapped coyote last night at a Target distribution center in Fontana,” Miller, owner of Lowell’s Wildlife Removal, said Friday, June 28. “And I had another one this morning.”

Miller said he caught two other young coyotes recently at the Sierra Lakes Golf Club in Fontana, bringing to 10 the total so far this year.

But are more coyotes really out there? That’s not an easy question to answer.

Some experts suggest the rainy winters of the past few years have upped the number of fruit dropping from trees, as well as the population of gophers, snakes and rabbits, primary coyote food sources. Meanwhile, litters of canis latrans — listed in a category given to dogs, wolves and foxes — can reach as many as 10 to 13 pups, scientists say.

“If it has been a good year in terms of rain and vegetation, they will have larger litters,” said Ken Pellman, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, which handles coyote issues in unincorporated county areas and for cities under contract. “With all the rains, you might see more of them.”

The office traps a coyote only if it is a threat to a human, he said. Trapping is extremely difficult because coyotes are smart enough to avoid them. When the office does trap a coyote, it is euthanized. State law prohibits relocating coyotes because it may transfer disease and often leave the coyote prey to mountain lions or starvation, Pellman said.

Biologist Justin Brown, of the National Park Service, has been studying urban coyotes in Southern California for more than five years. He wouldn’t say the urban coyote population is increasing exactly.

More likely, they are establishing themselves in certain areas as territorial statements, Brown said. One pack may set up a boundary against another and dig in, protecting their territory. Of course, the neighborhoods they choose are rich in food resources, such as fruit trees, rabbits, gophers, outdoor pet food and yes, sometimes domestic cats and small dogs.

A two-year study released in March by the National Park Service of 3,200 samples of coyote scat found human food and pet food made up 26% of their diet, as did ornamental fruit. Rabbits made up 18% and domestic cats, 20%. Gophers and insects made up 28% combined.

Early studies showed domestic cats in lower percentages. Dogs were not found in the diet of coyotes in either study.

Brown called the population in Southern California “stable,” not shrinking, not growing. “Coyotes are pretty much widespread throughout L.A.,” he said, downplaying reports of more in particular areas as anecdotal.

Brian Cronin, chief of animal care and control for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, said coyote trappings for the 12-month period ending June 30 were on track to exceed the previous year’s total, but well off the pace of two years ago.

The agency fielded 250 wildlife-complaint calls in its 2016-17 fiscal year, more than 90 percent of them involving coyotes, Cronin said. He said those calls led to 175 coyotes being trapped and euthanized.

He attributed the large number of trappings that year to the August 2016 Blue Cut fire, which torched coyote territory and food supply and forced many animals to look for new homes.

During the 2017-18 fiscal year, the agency received 244 wildlife calls, but trapped fewer coyotes — 96.

Through April — with two months to go in the 2018-19 fiscal year — there were 204 calls and 95 coyotes had been trapped, he said.

His agency oversees unincorporated areas of San Bernardino County and Highland, Yucaipia and Big Bear Lake.

Cronin said there tends to be more sightings this time of the year.

“They are looking for food, especially in the summer months, when food and water may be scarce,” he said.

Miller, the trapper, said it’s also common to see coyotes now because pups born earlier in the year are growing up and roaming around.

“I don’t see anything out of the ordinary this year,” Miller added.

Still, the residents of Hillside Mobile Home Park would argue otherwise.

And some activities didn’t exactly seem ordinary the other day.

For example, 60-year-old Susan Thomas was walking her 5 pound, 4-ounce chihuahua-terrier mix Macy May — on a leash — in her backyard.

“I’m afraid to leave her,” Thomas said, as she kept a close eye on a 6-foot fence next to a field.

There are far fewer cats in the park these days, neighbors say, probably because some have become coyote meals.

“The cats around here? They’re extinct,” Ed Peralta said.

As cats have moved out, coyotes have moved in.

Diane Lembeck said she found five pups and a mother coyote living under her trailer in spring 2018.

“I started hearing a lot of noises and I thought it was the plumbing,” Lembeck said. “The next thing I knew, they were playing out in the front yard.”

Lembeck said she spent many sleepless nights until they were trapped.

Peralta has been asked several times to trap coyotes in the park. For bait, he said, he uses “a piece of chicken, can of tuna, whatever I’ve got.”

Gardner added that coyotes stroll the walkways and even greet people at the mailbox.

“It’s only a matter of time before they attack one of us,” Gardner said.

It was bad enough, she said, that she found a coyote carcass a while back. That had to have been the work of a cougar, Gardner said. “And I don’t mean one of the old women here. I mean an actual cougar,” she said.

Experts say coyotes are known for being bold, smart, crafty and opportunistic.

“They’re going for the easy meals,” Miller said. “They don’t want to work any harder than they have to. I think that’s why they have become bolder and more brazen in urban areas.”

And, so, people need to keep small pets — and their food — inside, experts say.

“The goal is to make sure that your environment isn’t attracting coyotes,” Cronin said.

Carlos Orellana, assistant manager of the Menifee mobile home park, said he’s trying to do that. He never lets his dog go outside without him.

“And I carry a big stick,” Orellana said.

PREVENTING COYOTE ATTACKS

  • Never feed or attempt to tame coyotes. The result may be deadly conflicts with pets or livestock, or serious injuries to small children.
  • Do not leave small children or pets outside unattended.
  • Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.
  • Trim ground-level shrubbery to reduce hiding places.
  • Be aware that coyotes are more active in the spring, when feeding and protecting their young.
  • If followed by a coyote, make loud noises. If this fails, throw rocks in the animal’s direction.
  • If a coyote attacks a person, immediately contact the nearest Department of Fish and Wildlife or law enforcement office.

Source: California Department of Fish and Wildlife