Why Are Coyotes Getting More Aggressive?
Coyotes tend to avoid human contact. But recently, coyotes have been getting increasingly aggressive in the eastern United States, including southeastern New York state, attacking neighborhood pets on the fringe of urban and suburban areas.
"This kind of aggressive behavior is usually the last stage before coyotes actually start attacking humans -- such as small children that are perceived by the coyotes as a potential food source," says Paul Curtis, associate professor of natural resources at Cornell University. He notes that in the past two decades, several dozen attacks on humans have been reported in California.
Coyotes, which are closely related to dogs and wolves, are ubiquitous in North America, but they rarely have been a danger to humans. Fearful of being hunted and trapped, these large carnivores have typically stayed in wooded areas and away from humans. But now that coyotes have started foraging in suburban areas, more research is needed to find out why and how to prevent potential conflicts with people.
Curtis and his colleagues are launching a five-year study of coyote ecology and behavior in urban and suburban areas of New York state, thanks to a grant of $428,000 from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Additional funding from DEC through an existing study with Dan Decker, director of the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station and associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell, and Tom Brown, leader of the Human Dimensions Research Unit in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell, will work with Curtis to survey public attitudes and behaviors relating to coyotes. The researchers also will develop and test ways to try to induce coyotes to fear humans without harming them.
"We need to determine what people are doing, for example, to encourage coyotes into their yards, such as feeding dogs or cats outdoors and leaving the dishes out or leaving animals out at night," says Curtis.
The DEC estimates that 20,000-30,000 coyotes make the Empire State their home. "As coyotes become more adapted to living near people, hearing or seeing coyotes may become more common," says Gordon Batcheller, a supervising wildlife biologist with the DEC Bureau of Wildlife, and Curtis primary DEC collaborator on the coyote study. "These increased sightings should not be interpreted as aggressive behavior. A coyote seen in overgrown fields, brushy areas, woodlands or habitats in between these areas of natural cover is normal."
During the spring and early summer, coyote sightings in both rural and developed areas are likely to be more frequent because the animals are raising their litters and require more food.
To minimize contact, the DEC recommends:
- Never feed or attempt to get close to a coyote.
- Keep pets under control and do not to leave them out at night. Coyotes may kill or injure a pet, especially small dogs and cats. Walk dogs on leashes and accompany pets outdoors, especially at night. Provide secure shelters for poultry, rabbits and other vulnerable animals.
- Keep trash secure and compost bins covered.
- Monitor bird feeders to ensure that they are not attracting other wildlife.
- Keep dog and cat food bowls inside.
- Since coyotes like to hide in areas near food, keep bushes thinned and close off crawl spaces to prevent coyotes from resting or denning under buildings.
To report a coyote that is acting strangely or causing a nuisance, call the nearest regional DEC office. For contact information for DEC regional offices, see www.dec.state.ny.us/website/about/abtrull3.html.