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Unwanted neighbors: Coyote pack menaces Beverlywood

September 3, 2017

Imagine you are taking a leisurely stroll down your block, when you notice a stray dog in the distance trailing toward you. It looks like a husky, or maybe a German shepherd of some kind. But upon closer inspection, you realize that it is not a stray dog, but a coyote, complete with glowing yellow eyes and a sharp black snout.

This is not an uncommon experience for residents of Beverlywood, because coyote sightings have been on the rise in the last year there, according to locals and officials of the city’s Animal Services department.

Coyotes, normally standing at around two feet tall, have gray or light brown fur with triangular ears that stick straight up. Unlike dogs, whose tails occasionally wag upward, coyotes’ tails drag on the ground and typically have black tips.

Esther Levine, mom to Jordan Levine ‘17, said she has seen countless coyotes at all times of day near her home on Oakmore Road. But one of the most frightening experiences she when was watching one approach her neighbor while she was unloading her groceries. In her fear, the neighbor actually dropped all her groceries and suffered a concussion from running into her garage.

“It’s also very scary, because we all have pets and we like to walk our dogs,” Ms. Levine said in an interview, “and I’m scared to walk my dog because I’m scared I’m going to see a coyote any time of the day.”

The Levines’ small Labradoodle is especially vulnerable to a coyote attack, as small dogs may look like squirrels and rabbits, which are mainstays coyotes’ diets.

According to Mr. Hoang Dinh, Animal Control Officer assigned to the City of Los Angeles Animal Services’ Wildlife Division, coyotes are such a problem in Beverlywood because the area is so habitable and welcoming to the animal.

“These are urban coyotes, so believe it or not, they probably stem from the golf courses,” Mr. Dinh said. “But some of these coyotes are just born and raised in people’s backyards, so a lot of these coyotes don’t even know what the hills look like.”

These are urban coyotes, so believe it or not, they probably stem from local parks to golf courses, but some of these coyotes were just born and raised in people’s backyards, so a lot of these coyotes don’t even know what the hills look like. ”

— Officer Hoang Dinh, L.A. Animal Services

Mr. Dinh wishes he could take residents along on patrols he does of the Beverlywood area so they could see what he sees: homes that provide everything coyotes need.

“You got big properties, some vacant lots, and then you have people that own multiple homes so they’re there temporarily,” Mr. Dinh said. “When they’re not there, the coyotes know they can live there.”

Another major factor is what Officer Dinh called “attractants,” primarily food people leave out for stray cats or outdoor cats or other pets. This essentially trains coyotes to come to humans for food, thus increasing the residential residential coyote presence.

“It’s important that as a community, we try to curtail that,” Officer Dinh advised. “Make your property uncomfortable for wildlife.”

This would also include making sure someone – either a house-sitter or neighbor – watches your property while you’re away. He said if you do come home to find coyotes in the yard, it’s important to scare them off. While they will inevitably then disperse around the neighborhood, he said, they will at least know they’re not welcome around humans.

Mr. Dinh said it is unnatural for coyotes to be walking in front of humans the way they have been in Beverlywood and other places like Cheviot Hills. Coyotes are naturally afraid of humans, so the fact that they’re showing themselves to residents means they’re used to seeing people as food providers, not threats.

 

The problem has divided residents of affected areas into two main camps: those who believe in the trapping and killing or removal of coyotes, and those who believe in coexistence and preventive measures.

Relocation of coyotes is illegal in California because it endangers them, but people can acquire a license to trap and kill them by taking a series of courses. According to Officer Dinh.

More common in communities like Beverlywood, though, is to contract a professional trapper and killer.

“I euthanize them,” states Mike Flick, a trapper and killer who runs Los Angeles Wildlife Removal and Anytime Animal Control, on his websites. “I have a company policy here at Anytime Animal Control. No Coyote gets out of the trap alive. After my own dog and several others were eaten in 2005, I refuse to let another Coyote walk away alive.

“If that isn’t what you are looking for, you can call PETA to have them wish your rogue Coyote away with a bag of tofu. Coyote trapping is serious business, and there isn’t any time to discuss how the Coyote might feel about the situation.”

In 30 days, he killed 153 coyotes in San Diego, eight with a bow and arrow.

It’s hard to say no to killing when small, cute pets and children are at risk. Senior Emily Schoen said she saw one walking down Roxbury Drive while driving in the early evening.

 

“While following it, I saw people walking their dogs and people walking, so I yelled to them that there is a coyote and they picked their dogs up or walked the other way,” Emily remembered.

But junior Katia Surpin experienced the worst-case scenario. Her family normally lets their pet rabbits roam in the backyard until sunset, and then puts them back in their cage. One night, they came home late and Katia’s father noticed one of two rabbits was missing. He told his daughters that it had died of a heart attack from the shock of seeing a coyote.

But later on, Katia saw footage from the family’s backyard security camera showing a large coyote tearing their pool toys into shreds. She then realized her father had not been telling the truth: a coyote had actually eaten her rabbit, whose name was Bella.

“Now we bring them back in at four, when no coyotes are coming,” Katia said. “We believe they should be free and not just sit in a cage all day, so we’re just more careful now.”

But she still opposes trapping coyotes.

“I’m still not a fan of trapping and killing any animal, no matter what happened with my rabbit,” Katia said. “Because I don’t think any animal should be killed.

“But I do think preventative measures need to be taken, especially considering our lack of responsibility with leaving out the rabbits until midnight when we usually try to bring them in before sunset.”

Katia lives near the corner of Sawyer Avenue and Hillsboro Avenue, and said the attack took place on Dec. 19, 2016.

 

The argument against trapping and killing usually offered is that it’s not a long-term solution, according to research that shows killing them actually increases their population in the long-run.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, “coyotes can increase their reproductive rate by breeding at an earlier age and having larger litters, with a higher survival rate among young. This allows coyote populations to quickly bounce back, even when as much as 70 percent of their numbers are removed.”

But Mr. Flick, a trapper and killer of over 18 years, disagrees, and says he has not seen that growth in areas he has serviced.

“They can’t produce any faster than they are. If they have four pups, they have four pups, and they’re going to do it every year,” he said.

He said after he reduces a local pack, it generally regains its numbers after three to five years.

“They will re-populate, but my goal is not to destroy the population entirely,” Mr. Flick said in an interview. “My goal is to weaken the pack. A strong pack of coyotes that is 15 or 20 strong will eat anything they have the mind to. My goal is to make the pack weaker so they’re forced to eat smaller rodents. I don’t want to kill them all.”

Though they come back, he said it is still beneficial to hire a trapper and killer, since it gives a community peace and quiet for three to five years and might permanently rid them of the coyotes. During those years, the few that are left behind by Mr. Flick often retreat somewhere else while they re-populate enough to go back to the cities where food is.

If a city meanwhile gets rid of its attractants, the coyotes could go somewhere else.

Because of this, Mr. Flick believes people should not feel bad about hiring trappers and killers.

“I’ve actually heard people say this, and it’s ridiculous, is ‘Well, I have to do this [trapping and killing] but I’m not happy about it, this was their land first,’” Mr. Flick said. “The animals are opportunists and they are going to take every opportunity you put out there. Before people came to San Diego and Los Angeles, it was a desert, and the population of coyotes is going to be determined by the carrying capacity of the land.”

Meaning, if there’s an apple tree that produces one apple a day, and it takes one apple to sustain two squirrels everyday, there will be two squirrels, because that’s what the land will support.

“The desert doesn’t support much,” he added. “But we brought with us irrigation, fruit trees, garbage day, pets, so there is much more wildlife in the pound than in the desert, and we made it happen. We have nobody to blame but ourselves for the population of wildlife in Los Angeles.”

 

Mr. Dinh agrees attractants are part of the problem. He also believes that killing is not only not a solution, but also a possible cause of the coyote problem.

“Since the history of the U.S., we’ve done a lot of trapping and killing,” according to Officer Dinh. “Yet these coyotes stemmed from middle America. Now, they’re everywhere in all 49 states except for Hawaii, and even Canada. This just shows that as we’ve been killing them, they’ve been spreading further and further.”

Officer Dinh believes it’s possible that the coyote surge in Beverlywood represents a possible migration from Cheviot Hills, a community that was previously plagued with the canine presence.

He said he worked with that community to get rid of the animal by using prevention, as the City will not support or finance trapping and killing. This ensuring people did not leave food out, and also that they organized their trash so food scraps would not spill over on trash day or during the week.

He believes the same method could work in Beverlywood.

“If we could get whole communities to work together with the city, then I could see the coyotes staying out of sight in a couple of years,” he said. “They never really leave, as they’re now a part of the Southern California landscape, but they will stay out of sight if humans train them to be scared. One way to do this is to stare them down.

“If you don’t feel comfortable hazing them, then you want to at least stand your ground and keep eye contact with the coyote until it leaves,” he said.

Mr. Flick also said part of the problem is that residents do not instill fear in the coyotes.

“As far as being afraid of humans, they don’t process that that quickly,” he said. “Unless every human they see shoots at them or gives them a negative view of humans, they’re not going to get that healthy respect of people. Most people in L.A. when they see a coyote, they usually run, y’know? So why would they want to run? Now they’re the king of the hill.”

He added that it is for this reason people should kill and trap, not have to scare away wild animals.

“People need to realize that we are the top of the food chain and we should stop looking at it like it’s a Walt Disney movie,” he said. “The safety of your family and your pets is the most important thing, and people need to grow a thicker skin.”

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