A rash of coyote attacks on children in the Inland Empire in the last week has led to the closure of a Chino Hills park, and wildlife officials are warning parents to be more cautious around the increasingly bold animals.
"People cannot be ambivalent about coyotes," said Harry Morse, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game. "When that coyote starts toward you, it's not coming to be nice."
Since Friday, two children have been attacked. In another incident, a coyote was headed for a toddler when it was scared off.
The most recent attack occurred Tuesday in Lake Arrowhead. San Bernardino County sheriff's investigators said Melissa Rowley was taking pictures of her daughter and three other children in front of their home about 11:45 a.m.
When she went inside to put away the camera, a coyote ran up, grabbed Rowley's 2-year-old daughter by the head and tried to drag her down the driveway.
When Rowley rushed the animal, it dropped the girl, who was airlifted to Loma Linda Medical Center and treated for cuts on her mouth and puncture wounds on her head and neck. Sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers said the girl was expected to fully recover.
On Friday, a 2-year-old girl was attacked by a coyote while playing in a sandbox at Alterra Park in Chino Hills. The girl's baby sitter heard a scream and saw the coyote trying to carry the child off in its mouth. She grabbed the girl and the animal retreated. The child suffered puncture wounds on the buttocks and was treated at a local hospital.
The next day, another toddler was approached by a coyote in the same park, but the animal was scared off by the child's father.
In October, a 3-year-old girl living near Alterra Park was bitten three times by a coyote that attacked while she played outside. The girl survived.
"Chino Hills and Lake Arrowhead are miles from each other, so I can't say the attacks are related," Beavers said. "I don't know if people are feeding these animals, but it's certainly very brazen behavior."
Alterra Park has been closed as trappers working for Fish and Game track down the coyotes. They have killed at least three in the last few days. One of the dead animals had an injured left foot, which fits the description of the coyote that attacked the girl Friday, authorities said.
"In the past nine months, five children have been bitten in that area," Morse said. "We have gone in there and killed 23 coyotes since December. We want to eliminate as many as possible because they represent a serious threat to safety. They are attacking children right next to their parents."
Morse said hunters working for Fish and Game spotted a coyote near the area where the Lake Arrowhead attack occurred, but it wasn't safe to shoot it.
Coyotes usually are trapped in snares and shot.
The animals roam the length and breadth of California and often prey on domestic animals. But there have been 111 attacks on humans since the 1970s, injuring 136 people, said Rex O. Baker, a retired Cal Poly Pomona professor who has studied coyote behavior.
"The coyotes we are having problems with are urban coyotes, which have lost their fear of man and have become dependent on man and his environments," he said. "We used to have programs to keep coyote populations low, but the mentality of people has changed and now they think wild animals are cuddly. They have forgotten that wildlife is wild."
Baker said there are about four coyotes per square mile in the wild but far more near urban areas.
In 1981, when a coyote attacked and killed 3-year-old Kelly Keen in the frontyard of her Glendale home, trappers scoured the area and killed 57 coyotes within a mile of her house.
Morse, of Fish and Game, said he didn't know what's driving the attacks, but they aren't the norm.
"These are predatory attacks, not just biting someone," he said.
"We are looking at whether it's related to breeding, denning or drought, but the simple fact is these animals are habituated to people and they have no fear."