Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Be nicer to coyotes?

September 19, 2014  

by Tony Tucci

Consider the poor coyote. He’s on the losing end of every encounter with the Roadrunner. He’s labeled a shoot-on-sight varmint by every hunter in Texas. And he’s hated and even feared as a “cat-napper” who preys on family pets in the dark of night.

But wait. There is a voice of reform that is starting to be heard in the land calling for a more humane treatment of coyotes. And it may result in new policies being considered by the Austin City Council in the next few months.

It started with a complaint from Travis Heights residents who had spotted coyotes in the Blunn Creek watershed. The residents feared for their safety and the safety of school children who use a nearby park.

Several City Council members referred the matter to the Austin Animal Advisory Commission, said David Lungstedt, commission chair. Last December, the Humane Society of the United States sent a representative to Austin to meet with the commission, and a new plan for the treatment of coyotes began to take shape.

The national representative, Lynsey White Dasher, director of Humane Wildlife Conflict Resolution, said the plan calls for Austin to stop trapping, poisoning and otherwise trying to eliminate the coyote—efforts that have not worked—and replace them with measures that will encourage the coyote to move to a more natural habitat. This means residents would have to keep their cats and dogs indoors at night, and remove sources of food such as open garbage cans and animal food bowls.

Dasher said “hazing” of coyotes by residents also would be recommended. Residents would use loud noises, shouts, whistles and water pistols to frighten the coyotes and encourage them to go elsewhere.

“We want to retrain coyotes to fear people,” said Lungstedt. “We’ll have to change human behavior as much as coyote behavior.”

He said the plan should go to the City Council at its Sept. 25 meeting. While this type of reform is not yet widespread, similar plans have been adopted by other cities. These include Riverside and Wheaton, Ill; Long Beach and Calabasas, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and Centennial, Broomfield, and Aurora, Colo.

Like the cartoon character Wile E, Coyote, coyotes get little or no respect in Texas, said Jonah Evans, mammalogist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Like the mountain lion, another animal that is considered a nuisance, coyotes are ranked in the lowest classification of nongame, unprotected animals, along with frogs, porcupines and prairie dogs. They could be listed as a fur-bearing animal, which would give them more protection, “These classifications are as much politics as anything else,” Evans said. The only real restriction on coyotes is that people can’t possess a live one.

Lungstedt said that in Travis County both the city and county contract with Texas Wildlife Services to trap coyotes, using padded leg-hold traps. He said the animals are then destroyed. “We just want to raise the bar a little bit.”

He said under the new plan only humane box traps would be used and the coyotes then could be released unharmed into the wild. A coyote would be killed only if it attacked a human or pet.

Jacob Hetzel, wildlife biologist with Texas Wildlife Services, said the number of coyotes destroyed is very small. He said Wildlife Services recommends some of the same practices as outlined in the city plan.

Richard McRae, a Legend Oaks resident who lost a cat to coyotes recently, said his immediate response is to shoot coyotes, but he doesn’t want them treated cruelly.

“We’re still grieving,” he said. “We’d let her out every morning,” McCrae said. The cat would come home in about an hour, and spend the rest of the day indoors along with two other cats.

When the cat didn’t return one morning, he went looking and found her remains—one paw and a little fur—in the greenbelt nearby.

Still, McRae said he would not oppose a humane plan for treating coyotes.

“I’m not for the senseless slaying of animals,” he said. “My cats have always gone out, but not anymore.” He expressed doubts about hazing, because coyotes keep their distance.

So the next time you see a coyote, think kind(er) thoughts—unless, of course, he’s carrying a box of Acme explosives.




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