CHAPEL HILL — Coexist, don’t kill.
That was the message of a coyote workshop that drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 75 people to the Orange County Animal Services building last week.
So many people showed up at the Wednesday meeting to hear the speaker from the Humane Society of the United States that about 10 stood in the cold night air outside the open doors to listen.
The coyote population may or not be increasing in Orange County, but more people are seeing them, and some of the animals seem to have lost their natural fear of human beings.
That’s a problem, urban wildlife specialist Lynsey White Dasher said.
Wily is an apt description for coyotes, which are fast, prolific and unlike that cartoon character who kept falling off cliffs – often followed by a large ACME anvil, Dasher said.
In real life, coyotes are “incredibly smart,” she said.
Unwitting humans have put out the welcome mat for the wild canines, she added, which are now in every state except Hawaii and all major American cities.
“We have actually taught them to become habituated,” she said. “The first time I saw one, I thought, ‘Well, this is neat.’ If I’d had a camera, I probably would have taken a picture.”
That would have been a mistake, she said.
Instead, she should have made a loud noise; made herself look bigger; and, if she’d had a small child or pet with her, picked it up or at least placed herself between the coyote and the smaller creature.
As long as a coyote runs away, it’s not a threat to people. The ones that don’t need to be retrained by “hazing,” she said. Yell at them. Wave your arms. Shoot a water hose a them, or throw a stick.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission considers coyotes wild animals, not game. They can be hunted year-round and, as of last August, at night with lights except in five Northeastern counties.
A judge put the practice known as spotlighting in those counties on hold in November after 10 endangered red wolves were killed, according to Kathleen Sullivan of the Chapel Hill-based Southern Environmental Law Center, which is challenging the spotlighting rule. In three cases a hunter reported the shootings, saying he thought he was shooting coyotes, she said.
In the long term, killing or even relocating coyotes doesn’t work, Dasher said.
Coyotes are territorial. They mate for life and live in groups of five or six adults and pups, except for transient 1- and 2-year-olds seeking their own home territories, she said.
In a Chicago study that relocated 12 nuisance coyotes, none of them remained at the release site 48 hours later, all traveled back toward their home territory and none made it – all were killed by cars or in conflicts with other coyotes.
Killing doesn’t eliminate the problem either, Dasher said.
Coyotes can change their litter size in response to food and coyote density. The more food – or fewer coyotes – around, the more pups they have, from an average of five to seven pups to as many as 12 to 14, according to the Wildlife Resources Commission.
Even worse, when those groups of five or six adults are intact only one female breeds, Dasher said. Kill the breeding female and others in the group may start having litters.
The solution, Dasher said, is to discourage coyotes:
• Protect gardens and pet areas with 6-foot fences topped with “coyote rollers” that spin on contact and prevent the animals from jumping up and over.
• Don’t keep pet food outside, or if you’re feeding a feral cat colony, feed it once a day and remove the food quickly. The cats will learn to eat in a hurry, Dasher said. Plus you don’t want felines hanging around. A study in one city found pet food and food scraps accounted for 2 percent of the coyote diet and cats, 1 percent. Rodents were coyotes’ principal prey at 42 percent; followed by deer (often roadkill and fawns), 22 percent; and, surprisingly, Dasher said, fruit, 23 percent.
• Don’t leave pets unattended outdoors.
The good news?
Coyotes rarely attack people. Dasher said there are fewer than 12 reported coyote bites a year, compared to more than 4.7 million dog bites.
You’re more likely to be killed by a golf ball, she said. Or a champagne cork.