By Ann Fowler
Coyotes are not new to Oak Hill. In recent years they have been spotted in the Scenic Brook area as well as Western Oaks. Now Westcreek may have a coyote preying on housecats.
A jogger recently saw a coyote run into the trees off Westcreek Drive. This past week, a resident heard a distressed cat likely fighting a predator in the early morning darkness. The following day the remains of a cat were found off a trail near Small Middle School.
While this may be a sad ending for the cat, according to wildlife authorities it is part of living this close to nature. Randy Farrar, wildlife damage management biologist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, told the Gazette he would not assume a coyote was responsible for the dead cat. Other predators such as owls, hawks, raccoons and foxes — also seen in the area — could be responsible. An automobile could have struck the cat and a predator took over from there.
Farrar reviewed 311 calls in the area in the past three months and found only one reported coyote sighting on October 20. Four coyote complaints were made in 2011, with two in 2010 and one each in 2008, 2007 and 2006. He said, “Relatively speaking, the number of calls has doubled this year. However, the complaint calls do not indicate an increasing risk to pet or human safety.”
Coyotes are members of the dog family. They usually weigh between 20 and 35 pounds. The coyote is an opportunistic feeder preying on poultry, deer, rodents, rabbits, cats, dogs, carrion, fruits and insects. In the wild, coyotes can range up to 16 square miles, but in a bountiful suburban area he may need only 1/2 square mile. He usually hunts at night or in the early morning hours.
Farrar said a caller in the Westcreek area reported seeing a coyote kill a housecat at 1 a.m. on August 31, 2011. On a scale of 0 to 7, with 7 being the most aggressive behavior, this observed predation is ranked only a 2 because the coyote showed little risk to human safety. An attack on a person would score a 7.
Farrar said, “An increase in reports of attacks on pets in the vicinity of humans may indicate bold behavior which may increase risk to humans. However, reports of missing cats (or dogs) are not scored as coyote predation, as there are many factors, including other avian or terrestrial predators, that may be associated with free-ranging cat mortality.”
Multiple reports of foraging coyotes in residential areas in the span of a month, may or may not elicit the need for coyote management. Sightings that occur in a small area could indicate an increasing risk to human safety, according to Farrar. Residents can help track these occurrences by reporting any sightings or encounters to 311.
Farrar suggested the best way to protect housecats is by preventing or limiting outdoor activity. He said, “Allowing housecats to roam free may be one factor that contributes to coyotes foraging in streets and yards, which may in turn increase risk to human safety. An abundant unexploited deer population in residential communities is probably another factor. Consequently, managing the abundance and vulnerability of potential coyote prey is one factor that serves to prevent conflicts and protect human safety.”
Experts say residents can reduce their chances of coyote encounters by securing garbage cans and keeping and storing pet food indoors. Shrubbery that can be a hiding place for wildlife should be trimmed. Pets should be on leash if allowed out at night.
If authorities decide coyote management is necessary, they will trap and kill the animal. Farrar said there are three reasons that a coyote becoming increasingly dangerous to humans would not be trapped and relocated.
- Coyotes are territorial. A relocated coyote may be released where ‘resident coyotes’ may attack and kill it. Or, in unfamiliar territory, may be subject to disease and starvation.
- A quarantine by the Texas Department of Health allows relocation of predatory mammals under very limited conditions. Coyotes cannot be relocated farther than 10 miles, making it likely that the animal would return to its original home.
- Relocation may just move the problem from one neighborhood to another.