How to Coexist with Coyotes in Your Neighborhood

Imagine you’re driving home on an otherwise tranquil suburban road, when an unexpected neighbor pops in front of your headlights: a coyote. Most people think of coyotes as a nuisance at best , and a threat at worst — particularly when they’re spotted in residential areas.

Despite our fears, and a growing number of coyotes in cities and suburbs, coyote attacks are extremely rare in the United States. From 1977 to 2015, there were 367 documented cases of coyotes attacking humans in the U.S. and Canada, according to a 2017 study published in Human-Wildlife Interactions. There has only been one documented case of a fatal coyote attack in North America.

“In cases where you do end up with a coyote who is aggressive or attacks someone, those are extremely rare, but they pretty much always make the news,” says Laura Prugh, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Washington. “And so I think the perception we have is that they’re more dangerous than they actually are.”

These small carnivores are highly adaptable, meaning that — unlike most other forest-dwelling predators — they can survive in urban and suburban areas, scavenging for food and hunting small prey. And while coyotes can occasionally mistake small, unattended pets like cats and dogs as prey, these incidents are also rare.

Yet Prugh and other experts argue that a long legacy of coyote extermination policies in the U.S can often place coyotes in more danger from humans than from their natural predators. Here’s what to do if you start noticing more of these wild canines in your area to ensure that both humans and coyotes stay safe.

Why There Are So Many Coyote Sightings

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If coyotes aren’t preying on humans, why do we increasingly see them in residential areas? According to a team of researchers led by Prugh, coyotes have actually been taking to the suburbs as an escape from predators in their natural habitats. The team put trackers on over 100 small carnivores — including 35 coyotes — in northern Washington State and followed their travel over the course of nearly five years, publishing their findings in the journal Science in 2023.

Sure enough, the researchers found that coyotes often used developed areas to hide from larger predators. Coyotes can thrive in a variety of habitats, and have an extremely flexible diet that consists, essentially, of almost anything they can fit in their mouths. Urban and suburban areas are often home to lots of small mammals, such as rats and rabbits, and coyotes may also be drawn to these areas by the abundance of their preferred prey.

Read More: How Do Animals Know What Their Predators Are?

Are Coyotes Dangerous to Humans?

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So, while they may be a backyard nuisance to many humans, coyotes see densely populated areas as a refuge from predation in their ever-shrinking natural range. Plus, coyotes are rarely, if ever, dangerous to humans. But Prugh says one way to keep them from becoming an active threat is to avoid feeding them or interacting with them. When coyotes get too comfortable around humans, experts say, they may feel more emboldened to attack.

“The less they associate people with food, the better chance they have of staying out of trouble,” Prugh says.

Keeping trash inside, picking up fallen fruit from trees and making sure pets are kept indoors at night are other important ways to prevent coyotes from eating foods sourced from human environments, though research has shown that coyotes rarely eat trash or pets.

If you see a coyote, hazing them — making loud noises or waving your arms — is the best way to scare them off, according to guidelines from the National Parks Service. While they’re an important part of both forested and urban ecosystems, maintaining coyotes’ fear of humans is the best way to prevent them from attacking.

Read More: These 10 Animals are the Deadliest to Humans, and Most Aren’t Fearsome Beasts

Are Coyotes in Danger?

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Perhaps surprisingly, studies show that coyotes often face greater threats in urban areas than they do in their forested habitats.

In another 2023 study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, researchers found that coyotes living in urban areas have higher cortisol levels — an indicator of high stress — than their rural counterparts, leading to poor body condition and other adverse health effects.

What’s more, Prugh and her team found that the coyotes and bobcats they tracked in their study were nearly three times as likely to be killed by humans than by other large carnivores.

“People have been persecuting coyotes for centuries, and the government still spends millions of dollars to gun down coyotes in states like Utah for the benefit of the sheep ranching industry,” Prugh says. “Studies have shown it does nothing to reduce coyote densities.”

Read More: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Wildlife Oasis

Coexisting with Coyotes

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When coyotes become too comfortable around humans, local authorities often have to step in to control the local population. Yet the United States has a long history of policies that permit and encourage the hunting of coyotes and other large predators, even when they’re not aggressive. Wolves, for instance, were nearly driven to extinction as a result of hunting in the 19th and 20th centuries, but attempts to eradicate coyotes have largely failed, and they’re still found in virtually every part of the United States today.

As both coyotes and humans continue to adapt to their growing overlap in urban environments, Prugh says that coyotes are undoubtedly here to stay — and that coexistence is the best solution.

“They’re an important part of the ecosystem both in wild, rural and urban areas, in terms of helping to control those small mammal and rabbit populations,” she says. “Learning to live with them, as opposed to resisting their presence, is going to be the best path forward.”

Read More: Why These 6 Animals Shouldn’t Be Domesticated

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Source : Discovermagazine