Attacks on pets and a woman bitten on the wrist have residents worried, but coyotes are also an important part of the natural ecosystem

By Gary Walker

A recent spate of coyote encounters has residents on high alert

A recent spate of coyote encounters has residents on high alert

A recent spate of coyote sightings, multiple deaths of neighborhood pets and a woman being bitten by a coyote near an elementary school have a group of Westchester homeowners worried enough to consider hiring private contractors to trap the wily predators.

Local wildlife officials caution, however, that trapping coyotes would require them to be euthanized, thus disrupting a natural part of the local ecosystem.

Residents have reported seeing coyotes lounging on front lawns and in driveways, and there have been multiple reports of a coyote roaming in the area of Paseo Del Rey Natural Science Magnet Elementary School near Falmouth Avenue and Redlands Street.That’s the area where on July 11 a coyote bit Leonora Smith on the wrist as she tried to separate her two small dogs from it after the coyote ambushed them during a stroll at dawn.

“I picked my [smaller] dog up and it kept coming around me until finally it sat down in front of me. I started screaming and telling it to go away, but it kept lunging at me. Finally one of my neighbors came out and distracted it, and that gave me time to get back into my apartment,” Smith said.

Los Angeles County Wildlife Services Officer Hoang Dinh says trapping coyotes is not always effective, and state law prevents trapped coyotes from being relocated — meaning they must be euthanized.

Instead, Dinh recommend keeping smaller pets on leashes when walking them, walking pets in groups, keeping pet food out of reach from coyotes and, above all, not feeding wild animals such as coyotes, raccoons and opossums.

Feeding wildlife is illegal, and Dinh said during an informal neighborhood meeting on Sunday that he had recently cited a man for feeding a family of coyotes near Los Angeles International Airport.

“Fear of humans is engrained in their DNA, and we need to keep it that way. My goal is to keep the wildlife afraid of us and out of sight,” he said.

Joanne Orenski said she has read on social media that some people in her Westchester neighborhood east of Sepulveda Boulevard are still considering trapping as an option.

“There are some people who are still interested in trapping, but I’m not convinced that it would solve our problems right now,” Orenski said. “But if the problem gets worse, I might reconsider trapping.”

This isn’t the first time coyotes have been spotted in the area.

In August 2014, a coyote chased Playa del Rey bluffs resident Cindy Curphey near her home after she tried to stop it from attacking her small dog.

According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife statistics, there were 19 reported cases of coyotes attacking humans between 2012 and 2015.The department does not keep statistics of coyote attacks on pets. The department estimates there are as many as 250,000 to 750,000 coyotes in California.

During Sunday’s neighborhood outdoor meeting near the corner of Earhart Avenue and Will Rogers Street, one resident asked whether shooting aggressive coyotes was an option.

Shooting coyotes is illegal, Dinh said, adding that his department and the LAPD are investigating a coyote shooting in Silver Lake that happened earlier this month.

Adult coyotes are more aggressive during May to September when they are caring for young, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control.

“Domestic dogs are especially vulnerable to attacks during this time. Even dogs on leashes have been attacked when they got too close to a family of coyotes,” the department’s website warns.

That lines up with the results of the first ever National Park Service analysis conducted on urban coyotes in Los Angeles. Biologists installed a camera in the backyard of a Silver Lake home last year and documented a female coyote attacking neighborhood dogs multiple times. Researchers later discovered that she had a litter of pups nearby that she was protecting.

The National Park Service study found that coyotes are not encumbered by mountains, hills or bluffs. They can also live in urban environments, such as vacant lots. Coyotes that were trapped and tagged for the study were seen roaming empty streets at night and in the early morning hours.

When encountering a coyote, Dinh recommends that people shout, use an air horn or throw objects at the animals in order to scare them away.

Coyote advocates stress that the animals help control the rodent population. Rats, mice and gophers are staples of the coyote diet, along with squirrels and rabbits. They argue that coyotes have been seen in the bluffs for decades and are part of the region’s wildlife population.

Dinh said that while he will investigate coyotes that have become a nuisance or a potential danger in residential areas, social media can often exaggerate the number of coyotes in a given area.

“One coyote can be reported as many as 20 times,” he said.

Smith says it took a week before her dogs were willing to go outside again and admits that she, too, remains shaken two weeks after the attack.

“If my neighbor hadn’t come out I don’t know what would have happened,” Smith said.

Visit laanimalservices.com/about-animals/wildlife/ for more information about dealing with coyotes in urban areas.

gary@argonautnews.com

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