Marin Scope

Human’s are to blame for bad coyote habits

July 31, 2008
Jessica Mullins, Staff Writer/Editor

Removing the coyote “Big Ears” from the Marin Headlands may get rid of the problem of one habituated coyote, but it doesn’t solve the bigger problem – people feeding wildlife, said Bill Merkle, Golden Gate National Recreation Area wildlife ecologist. “However an animal is removed,” Merkle said, “it’s removing the animal from the system. It’s the animal that pays the price of people’s bad behavior. A lot of people think these are cute, cuddly animals, but they’re unpredictable, wild animals. We are especially concerned when people get close and try to feed them. Those are situations that could turn out very badly for all involved.”

Merkle said coyote issues have been particularly bad over the last year at the Headlands. Problems include coyotes chasing bikes, nipping at people, running in front of cars, being fed by people and approaching hikers. There have also been a few reports of coyotes nipping at people.

These problems stem from human behavior. “It’s when people feed and closely approach the coyote that they get accustomed and habituated to it and they approach more people,” Merkle said. “That’s the really dangerous situation, when people are in close proximity to coyotes, which are wild animals.”

Mary Paglieri, a human-animal conflict consultant, said the increasing number of bold coyotes is preventable with human education. Current signs in the park tell visitors to not feed and approach animals. Paglieri said the signs need to explain more. “Essentially, you ruin the animal because it gets dependent on human food and spends its time begging.” Paglieri said she has asked the park to help produce educational materials on the dangers of feeding wildlife. Merkle said improved signs, education and outreach are in the works.

GGNRA spokesperson Rich Weideman said it is important the public understands coyotes are wild animals. “The worst thing a person can do is feed an animal,” Weideman said. The animal stops fearing people and associates them with food.

One result of human interaction is coyotes coming out of the hills into populated areas. Sausalito resident Susan Fletcher said putting out food for other wildlife attracts coyotes. “People really need to be educated how to live with wildlife.”

Coyotes are particularly dangerous around pets. Lisa Carmel, who lives in downtown Mill Valley, saw a coyote carrying her neighbor’s dead cat one recent morning. She said she was surprised to see it in broad daylight, having never seen one downtown before. Carmel said she has heard increasing reports of coyotes and missing pets in her surrounding neighborhoods.

People need to be coyote-aware, Merkle said, and do things that discourage attracting coyotes. “We would recommend keeping pets inside, particularly in the very early morning and early evening.”

Coyotes are often drawn to fruit fallen off trees, open compost and accessible trash.