Colorado wildlife experts say people are getting complacent when it comes to coexisting with coyotes. In an incident on May 16, two pre-school age girls were attacked on the same evening at a busy playground near Colorado Springs. Both were supervised by their mothers, and both were bitten in broad daylight. When the unnamed four-year-old suffered a “nip on the behind,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife investigated, and left without finding the offender. But within the hour, the coyote was back, attacking a tiny, blonde two-year-old and leaving gaping bite wounds on her forehead, skull, and temple.
The two-year-old received stitches at a local hospital and began a series of rabies vaccinations. And on May 21, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials euthanized two coyotes from a pack that frequents the area. But according to the southeastern Colorado division’s public information officer Jennifer Churchill, the incident underscores the rise in human-coyote conflicts not just in Colorado but across the United States. In Colorado, says Churchill, coyote on human attacks have risen from one per year to five annually since 2007. And in the greater U.S., coyote attacks are also on the rise.
Once, coyotes primarily lived on the Great Plains and in the Southwest, but they have since expanded their turf to every state except Hawaii. After generations of urban living, some coyotes now navigate subdivisions as easily as the high desert. Churchill says that through urbanization, humans have created the “perfect habitat,” complete with pathways, water features, flowering shrubs, berry plants, and even shelter. In her region, she adds, officers frequently see coyotes denning in people’s yards and even under their sheds and outbuildings. “There is another main reason coyotes are so comfortable around humans,” she says. “In addition to providing fantastic habitat, we’re giving them no reason to fear us. In the old days, coyotes were shot by ranchers on a regular basis to protect livestock. Coyotes in urban areas experience no such negative conditioning and have lost their healthy and natural fear of people.”
Coyotes have become too comfortable, as evidenced by the brazen stalking of the two little girls in a crowed playground. There, the offending coyotes reportedly came from a pack that had been troubling a nearby mobile home park. Back in January, one resident watched a “big black alpha” jump his fence, lope up, and snatch his 18-month-old Yorkie pup.
Frank Ver Hay, 84, says he chased the offending coyote through his neighborhood, yelling and screaming, before the coyote dropped his dog, “Joey.” Ver Hay then sounded the alarm to wildlife officials, expressing “fear that the coyotes were unafraid of humans and folks were in danger unless authorities trapped and removed the coyotes,” according to the Colorado Springs Gazette that went on to say, “But Mike Seraphin, the public information officer for the Northeast Parks and Wildlife District said the best he could suggest was for folks to harass coyotes whenever they spot them. Squirt them with a hose. Scream at them. Throw rocks or sticks at them. Make them feel unwelcome and prompt them to relocate. And don’t feed coyotes or any wild animals."
Seraphin’s answer aggravated Ver Hay, who scoffed at the idea that instructing the public to haze coyotes was the best the agency could do to help. But Churchill says that it’s now become a matter of public safety for citizens to take part in coyote management. “As an agency, we believe coyotes belong in open space,” she says, “and that there are enough good coyotes out there. But we can’t have them biting people, especially children.” So she asks everyone she talks to to help out.
To keep coyotes at bay, Churchill stresses three main points in her “elevator speech” about them:
Never feed them, or leave food where they can get it. Protect your pets, meaning keep them on a leash when outside walking with them. If your house backs up to open space, don’t ever leave them unattended—either on a leash or off of one. If you must leave them outside, put them in a fully enclosed kennel. Like Seraphin said, haze all coyotes when you see them. “Yell, scream, be super obnoxious,” says Churchill. Carry a coke can full of rocks or pennies, or carry an airhorn that you can blow at them. “We don’t encourage people to hurt them,” she says, “but if they’re in your yard, make a point of being as nasty and rude as possible. Hazing coyotes is good for animals and for people—it retains the wildness in our wildlife and keeps the public safe.”