Coyotes cause stir in Carrboro

tgrubb@newsobserver.comSeptember 1, 2012 

Local naturalist Mary Sonis photographed this coyote in Carrboro the morning of Aug. 7.

COURTESY OF MARY SONIS

  • Living with Coyotes Coyotes rarely attack people but will eat small dogs and cats. Experts offer this advice: • Keep your pets indoors, leashed or inside a fenced area. • Remove potential food, water or bedding. Secure garbage with tight-fitting lids. • Keep areas around bird feeders clean or remove feeders. • Join a group of people to walk your dog, rather than walking alone. Carry mace, a stick, whistle or other item for defense. • If confronted, don’t run. Try to scare the animal away. • Close off crawl spaces under sheds and porches. Clear your yard of brushy areas and fallen fruit. • You can hire a licensed trapper or hunter. Check your local ordinances, and be aware other coyotes may take its place.

— Lauren Hodge first stumbled upon the coyote sitting on a big rock in a field near her Stone Knoll home.

“That darn thing jumped off the rock and came at me,” she said.

“I stood my ground. I was waving my arms, stamping my feet.”

The coyote paused but approached her three times before returning to the woods, she said.

It wasn’t the last encounter. On Aug. 23, she and her daughter were walking their dogs at night when they heard coyotes howling.

“It was super scary,” she said. “I feel like we’re being besieged and held hostage.”

Her neighbors have their own stories about coyotes stalking residents and their pets, marking their territory in driveways and howling outside homes. They’re carrying golf clubs and bats on walks and considering whether to hire a hunter, they said.

“No government agency is going to help us out,” resident Paul Johnson said.

Coyotes have been spotted across the Triangle, but reports of the animals approaching people appear unique to Carrboro.

In Durham, a woman feeding stray cats in her neighborhood saw a coyote and called the sheriff’s office, which told her to stop putting out food. She did, and the coyote stopped coming around, Deputy Paul Sherwin said

Another woman hit one with her car on Cornwallis Road near Research Triangle Park, he said.

Wake County has seen a slight increase in coyote sightings, primarily where subdivisions are expanding, Animal Services supervisor Karen Rogers said.

Local agencies don’t track coyote reports and don’t respond unless they suspect rabies. They try to educate callers, and if there’s property damage, refer them to trained wildlife damage control officers.

Wildlife biologist Jason Allen, with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, said coyotes are in all 100 N.C. counties to some degree. The growing number prompted state lawmakers this year to temporarily allow nighttime coyote hunting with a light on private lands. The rule, enacted Aug. 1, does not apply to public land or urban areas, since many towns prohibit hunting and discharging firearms.

Wildlife officials don’t trap or kill coyotes, he said.

Southern Orange County has had more coyote reports the last few years, Animal Services Director Bob Marotto said. They talked with wildlife officials about the Carrboro incidents. The goal is to intervene quickly when there’s a problem, he said.

“The issue for us is not that they’re here. The issue arises when they become habituated to people and stop being scared and reclusive,” he said.

Carrboro Animal Control Officer Robert Nekoranec’s first coyote report was in 2007. About three years ago, they started moving into town, he said.

The Stone Knoll coyote may be the same one seen in Carrboro’s downtown business district, he said. It also may have been involved in two incidents on Old N.C. 86, including one in which a Carrboro officer saw a coyote stalking a man and his dog.

Nekoranec has a map dotted with pins marking each coyote sighting. The half-moon-shaped trail stretches from the Homestead Road area to downtown Carrboro. Experts say a coyote’s range can vary from two to 25 miles.

Over the last few years, Carrboro police have received reports of coyotes attacking cats, fawns and at least two goats, Lt. Chris Atack said.

A coyote’s only natural predators are disease and starvation, Nekoranec said. Suburban and urban areas provide them with “an all-you-can-eat buffet,” he said. Diseases are hit or miss depending on their contact with other animals.

Coyotes are not native but moved in as the landscape changed and the wolf population shrank, experts say.

They are smart and adaptive, and can travel in packs or alone, Allen said. In urban environments, they become more bold and aggressive as they start to associate people with food, he said.

Coyotes mate for life and can have a litter of roughly six to eight pups every spring. When coyote populations are killed or die off, the remaining coyotes breed at a younger age and have larger litters with higher pup survival rates, experts say.

Pups learn to hunt at 8 or 9 weeks and, in late summer, practice howling by mimicking their parents. The family splits up in the winter.

“Their behavior changes according to their lifestyle,” Rogers said. “In mating season, they act a little crazy and don’t pay attention to what they’re doing.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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