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As coyote population grows, what you should know

Posted: November 29, 2008 9:26 p.m.
Updated: November 30, 2008 4:59 a.m.

A coyote is seen near Pamplico Drive and Seco Canyon Road in Saugus earlier this month. The Santa Clarita Valley's coyote population is on the rise.

 

Coyotes are becoming increasingly comfortable with living and breeding close to neighborhoods in the Santa Clarita Valley.

As development and the valley's population expand, the small, wolflike carniverous animals are displaced from their natural habitats and must learn to live among people to survive, a local wildlife expert said.

"They have no choice but to learn to live where we live," said Martine Collette, founder and director of Sylmar's Wildlife Waystation, which rescues and rehabilitates wild animals.

"People say, ‘Why can't they go back to the wild?'" she said. "We are taking up their space. Every new subdivision you see built, every group of homes, every new park is a removal of the wild animals' habitat."

Coyotes have become unusually comfortable and bold around people, she said.

"Fright-flight distance is how close someone can approach a wild animal before it takes off running," Collette said. "It's quite short now. You might be able to approach them within 20 feet, whereas before 100 or 200 feet would have been more the norm."

Several Santa Clarita residents said they lost pets to coyotes and recent sightings are up.

"They live right next to people," said Raymond B. Smith, deputy director of L.A. County department of Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures. "They're very successful animals along the fringes of populated areas, although their populations are higher in truly wild territories."

Coyotes will target food and trash that is left in back yards. Unsupervised pets also make easy snacks for coyotes.

"We provide a lot of their food for them," Collette said. "People who don't take care of their pets properly will lose them to coyote predation.

"People who don't take good care of their orchards and there's fruit on the ground (will attract) possums, rats, voles, mice, those kinds of things ... that's all coyote food."

The city of Santa Clarita recognizes the increased number of coyotes but does not have any plans to relocate them or enforce measures to control the coyote population. Residents should take measures to protect their own yards and pets from coyotes.

"The city is not responsible for managing the coyote population. We simply do not provide any level of support for that," said Kevin Tonoian, city technology services manager.

"We direct people who have concerns to speak with the county agricultural commission. They deal with that type of natural wildlife and provide educational information about dealing with coyotes," he said.

Collette agrees that residents have the responsibility to protect their property from coyotes.

"My kind-hearted suggestion to the Santa Clarita residents or any other resident is you need to be conscientious about the protection of your personal belongings," she said. "There are certain responsibilities the public has to accept and protecting your children and pets is one. Unprotected animals are fair game."

People can protect their pets by building solid fences and feeding them inside the house or garage.

Coyotes usually do not target children as a food source, although parents can protect small children against coyote attacks by not allowing them to play outside unsupervised.

"As a general standard, children are not part of a coyote food chain," Collette said. "What normally happens is children will have something in their hands like food and the coyote may go for that food and bite the child accidentally, or children, being so gregarious, will run up to a coyote."

Residents can discourage coyotes from living nearby by removing potential food and water sources that coyotes could access.

"When there's a sudden increase in populations of coyotes, or they're becoming unusually bold, someone's feeding them in the area," Smith said. "If they're not getting food and water at your house, they'll move on."

Collette believes residents can learn to live peacefully with the coyotes in the Santa Clarita Valley.

"People at some point need to learn to co-habit with things," she said. "As we expand across this globe, there is less and less space for other residents of planet earth to live on. Therefore, the space needs to be shared. There are ways to share spaces without either party getting the worst of it. There is a cycle, and if people choose to, they can learn to live within an animal community and live peacefully."

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