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Coyote Attacks on Toddlers Spark Probe

<i> From Associated Press</i>

There’s a two-pronged search on in suburban Oro Valley: for more coyotes lurking around a park where three children were bitten in two days, and for the people who have been feeding them.

“It became painfully obvious that people have been feeding the coyotes,” Arizona Game and Fish Department spokesman Scott Richardson said Tuesday.

“We view this not so much as a coyote problem; it’s a people problem. And when it results in an attack on a child, it is a serious issue.”

One coyote was found and killed in Wildlife Ridge Park after an attack Friday in which a 22-month-old toddler, bitten around her right eye, required seven stitches for the deep puncture wounds. A 4-year-old boy also was bitten and scratched.

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The day before, a coyote--possibly the same animal--attacked a 2-year-old boy, though that child’s skin was not broken.

The animal that was killed acted peculiarly in that it showed no fear of humans, officials said. An Oro Valley officer discovered the female coyote beneath a bush in the park Friday, about 30 minutes after the attack on Gabrielle Malkin and Benjamin Satre.

The coyote stood up, then lay back down as Officer Pam Barrett approached. Barrett shot the animal, which tested negative for rabies.

Officials say there is no way to determine whether the coyote was the attacker.

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Several neighbors indicated that they have seen people hand-feeding coyotes in the park, said Richardson, an urban wildlife specialist. “It ranges from steak to doughnuts,” he said. “They’ll feed them just about anything.”

“It’s very rare that coyotes will bite people,” said Peter Siminski, general curator at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. “However, you do hear about it more these days as coyotes and people come in closer contact.”

Typically, it occurs when coyotes become accustomed to people trying to hand-feed them, Siminski said.

Coyotes attacked and bit two Scottsdale children in separate attacks within a week in April, though neither child was seriously hurt.

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Authorities said then that since 1993, there had been seven reports of coyotes attacking humans in Arizona.

Human contact with--and feeding of--javelinas and coyotes has become a widespread problem in Arizona, Richardson said. Wildlife ranging from hawks to rabbits and raccoons also are being fed by people, he said.

The animals associate people with food and lose their fear of humans; it causes them to aggressively seek out food from people, Richardson said.

Oro Valley Police Sgt. Kim Jones said wildlife managers told her that animals become frustrated when they associate a human scent with food but then cannot find it.

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They’re also looking for the coyote-feeders, she said.

“There is some liability there,” Richardson said. “There is no ordinance or law that prohibits the feeding of wildlife, but there is the potential to be cited for maintaining a public nuisance.”


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