Coyotes in Hernando County are becoming an ever increasing problem. Angeline Scotten wildlife biologist with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation addressed some of these issues and provided information about why they are here and what we can do about it at a recent commission meeting.
Coyotes are a statewide problem as well as a national one. Here in Florida, the red wolf was indigenous but was extirpated in the 1920's. Scotten explained that because of the absence of the red wolf, coyotes have been allowed to move into Florida. They were first noted in the Florida panhandle in the 1960's. Coyotes have been in Hernando County for at least 25 years. Scotten remarked that they are here to stay. California undertook an eradication project in which they shot them from helicopters. Twenty million dollars later, their population is still as strong as ever due to their high breeding dynamics.
Scotten pointed out some important facts about coyotes. Adults are between 25 and 40 pounds. She emphasized that there has not been any evidence of larger coyotes in Florida. They are monogamous and mate in winter. Both parents care for their young which are born in April or May. Litter size is between 6 and 12 pups dependent on food source availability. Their home range in rural areas is about 15 square miles, while in urban areas it is around 3 because there are more food sources. She explains that coyotes prefer meadows and pasture lands over densely wooded areas. They are highly territorial and eclectically omnivorous.
Stomach content studies have revealed just how eclectic their diet is. Food and candy wrappers, deer, palmetto seeds, evidence of poke weed, roaches and other insects, rodents, and of course dog/cat food have all been recovered from roadkill/trapped specimens. Forty-seven mice were recovered from the intestines of one individual. Rare and endangered species can be on the menu if the opportunity presents itself such as burrowing owls, indigo snake, scrub jays, beach nesting mice as well as sea turtles. They do, as many have experienced, often take cats and small dogs. If they could just stick to insects and mice perhaps we'd all be happy.
Scotten stated that they do serve some beneficial purposes. They are good parents and aesthetically pleasing. More importantly, they fill the void left by the red wolf and keep smaller predator populations in check such as raccoon and fox. By keeping the raccoon population in control this helps out some endangered species such as the federally endangered wood stork, song birds and bob white quail.
She pointed out that there are some common misconceptions about coyotes. They do not hunt in packs of unrelated adults. They usually hunt singly or during mating season, in pairs. If the pups are of the age to learn to hunt they will accompany the parents. A hunting group is usually a family. There has been little evidence in Florida to suggest much breeding between dogs and coyotes or wolves and coyotes. Additionally, there has been only 3.5 attacks on humans per year in the USA and Canada between 1960 and 2006 with only 2 fatalities. One of these fatalities involving a child was due in part to people feeding the coyote. When you compare these numbers to the injuries and fatalities caused by dogs just in the USA, the incidence of coyote related injuries is negligible. There are 1000 ER visits per day due to the domestic dog and there were 181 fatalities between 2005 and 2010.
Despite the little threat they may have on humans directly, they do pose risk to our livestock and family pets as Hernando County is currently experiencing. Scotten suggests using barns, corrales, electric fencing and guard animals such as donkeys to protect livestock in smaller operations. In larger operations, control may be warranted if a coyote is creating a problem. However, she warns that removing a coyote that is not causing trouble may do more harm than good since another coyote which does predate on livestock could take the opportunity to move in.
Coyotes make a better living in urban areas so they are increasingly finding urban areas more appealing than rural ones. Scotten says that it is important for people to take the appropriate steps to secure garbage and not to leave dog or cat food outside. Keep your cat indoors and make sure your yard is well fenced if your dog stays in your yard.
For safety, do not turn your back on a coyote and never run away which could trigger a predator/prey response. If a coyote is in the area, let him know he doesn't belong. Continue hazing the animal until it's no longer around. An air horn could be useful for this purpose. Coyotes will be bold if undeterred.
She stated that coyotes won't abandon urban territory but will not be so dependent on human food sources if you haze and keep food/garbage secure.
In the case of an aggressive animal, bear spray is always a good thing to have on hand. If a problem coyote is in the area trapping is an option that can be used, but individual coyotes should be removed on case by case basis. Coyotes are notoriously hard to catch and will avoid box/cage traps.
A snare is legal to use in Florida as well as a steal trap. Both however are non-discriminatory and must be strategically placed along a hedge line or in an area the coyote is moving about. Traps should be checked frequently. A snare can be lethal to any animal caught in it. A steal trap requires a permit from FWC and is considered a last resort for predation issues. A permit for a steal trap is only issued for agricultural reasons. If you do catch a coyote in a trap, Scotten suggests euthanization. Relocation is not an option. Poison is not legal in Florida but if you are in a rural area, gun and light permits are no longer required for coyote at night only.
For more information you can contact Angeline Scotten at the FWC regional office 863-648-3200. To find a nuisance wildlife trapper go to http://myfwc.com/trappers
Image credit"Coyote life study - Seton Thompson (1886)" by Seton, Ernest Thompson, 1860-1946 - Life-histories of northern animals : an account of the mammals of Manitoba. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.