Have you ever been stalked? Had that feeling that no matter what you’re doing, someone is watching you, waiting for you to make a mistake, so they could pounce and hurt you? Maybe someone’s broken into your home or yard and left you feeling violated and paranoid. This edgy feeling of something-not-quite-right may be less imagined than you think.
It’s coyote season.
Once only inhabitants of the American plains, the coyote, or American jackal, brush wolf, or prairie wolf is clever and dangerous, especially at this time of year. I was working on a blog post for a client recently, and had the chance to talk with a Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife representative regarding coyotes. Apparently today, coyotes are just about everywhere. Literally. I was told they live in 49 of our 50 states. Can you guess the one state where coyotes do not live?
Anyway, the coyote’s extremely adaptable nature makes living with or near humans a very real experience, and the incidents of these creatures interacting in a negative way with people is rising. Until 2006 or 2007 Colorado experienced an average of one attack a year. Now the number has risen to 5 or 6 a year. That may not seem like a lot in terms of the size of the human population around here, but the trend is alarming.
So what makes a coyote encounter so dangerous? I mean, the little guys are only about 35 pounds or so, right?
Friends at the dog park can list a lot of challenges. First, because of their cleverness, coyotes form packs to lure out unsuspecting dogs and will tease them away from familiar territory, then the pack turns to kill and eat your dog. Yes, your dog. Not some stray or lost soul, but pets with good homes and loving families get fooled into the “chase me” game.
A few years ago at Chatfield State Park a puppy of about a year old became separated from his owner. Although they looked long and hard for the dog, they had to leave over night. The next day the park rangers had found the dog–what was left of it–and told the owners not to bother trying to collect up its remains.
Then, these guys hunt everywhere. That means toddlers and small children become unsafe, even in their own back yards! If you have young ones, please do not leave them outside alone, even to go answer a phone or check on the stove. Okay, so this may seem a little extreme, but let me explain the criminal mind behind my warning.
Coyotes are like burglars. They actually “case” neighborhoods and yards for opportunity. If you leave out food or have the kind of environment they find “cozy,” they’ll be in your yard, whether you’re aware it or not. That bird feeder you use to attract our wonderful array of winged friends? It’s a welcome sign for coyotes. And leaving a dish of water out for Fluffy becomes finders keepers for the prairie jackal.
Now that coyotes are literally everywhere, wildlife-loving friends are not shooing them away, or putting the fear of humans into coyotes. They’re taking pictures, and quietly enjoying a close encounter of the wildlife kind. This emboldens brush wolves to stay and make your yard their home, your neighborhood their territory.
Like humans, coyotes are very territorial. If man kills for the right to call some piece of land his, do you think coyotes are going to act differently? And right now, in January and February, coyotes are partnering up and claiming territories for their own. The coyotes will see your dog as a threat to what’s theirs, and that means if your dog is playing by him or herself in what you think is your yard, the coyotes may see Fido as an invader to their territory.
Humans make this situation worse by not frightening off coyotes. They reach for cameras instead of noise makers or even small stones. Coyotes learn human routines–because let’s face it, we tend to be creatures of habit–then use their knowledge of our behavioral patterns against us. The result is a bite, a stolen piece of meat waiting to be barbecued, or a missing pet.
Here are some things you should do if you encounter a coyote:
- Make noise–be scary. Horns, rocks in echo-making cans, shouting, whistling; all these things say you’re a dangerous and unfamiliar creature to the coyote
- Do not run. Slowly back off from your encounter. The coyotes will watch you but you will not evoke their chase mechanism if you remain calm and confident in their presence
- Keep your yard free of food, and water, two of the main elements coyotes look for in settling into your yard
- Change your routine and claim your yard for your own. Is it any wonder a coyote will come to call if your yard remains empty of human activity most of the time? Think “use it or lose it” where your back yard is concerned.
You can learn more about coyotes at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website. It’s worth a look, before coyotes become the source of a new Stephen King novel. Ooh, so creepy!
Oh. And the state that doesn’t have coyotes? Hawaii. But with the stealth and cleverness of the creature, there’s no reason Hawaii will stay coyote-less for long. Watch out!
NOTE: Sorry my reading friend. Pics today were blocked from loading. Will try to add them later.