Keeping wildlife wild

The howls that echoed through Griffith Park on Monday were coming from hikers, parents and nannies -- not coyotes.

Park visitors were furious with a decision to shoot coyotes in the 4,210-acre park following an encounter between a man and a coyote last week.

Eight animals were killed before the eradication effort ended at 10:50 p.m. Friday, said Kyle Orr, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game.


Park visitors blasted the hunt as overkill. They blamed the problem on people who illegally feed coyotes.

“I’m strictly opposed to killing them,” said Dimitrios Gatsiounis, a Los Feliz resident who regularly brings his three children -- all younger than 5 -- to the park to play.

“Coyotes are part of the natural surroundings here that we all enjoy. They are reclusive animals unless people feed them. Lots of city dwellers have never seen wildlife before,” Gatsiounis said.

Park regulars said they have seen visitors fling uneaten sandwiches and other food out of car windows in park pullouts and along Zoo Drive. One man regularly scatters bread. Some picnickers routinely toss scraps for coyotes to eat.

“We tell them, ‘No! Don’t do that! There are kids here!’ and they look at us like they don’t care,” said Carolina Martinez, a Highland Park nanny who was there with the 2-year-old boy she watches.

At a child-friendly play area called Shane’s Inspiration, a group of mothers watching their youngsters frolic were saddened by the coyote hunt.

“Killing them is silly. They were here first,” Coralyn Peirson of Studio City said as she sat at a picnic table and watched her 2-year-old daughter, Emily. “Of course, if one of them carried off my baby, I’d probably feel differently.”

The incident that led to the coyote crackdown was said to have been far less serious than that, however.

An unidentified man who said he was sleeping on a grassy area near Travel Town about 5 p.m. last Wednesday said he was awakened when a coyote nibbled at his foot.

“When he woke up, the coyote was sitting there,” said Capt. Wendell Bowers of the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services. “Coyotes nip at each other when they want to be fed. This one was waiting for something to eat. It wasn’t trying to eat the man’s foot. It nipped at him.”

Bowers said there was no reliable information about a coyote attack last month that reportedly involved someone who was in the park after closing time.

Officer Gregory Randall, the department’s wildlife specialist, said the city’s procedure is to notify the California Department of Fish and Game after such encounters.

That agency, in turn, called the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provided hunters.

Orr said hunters only targeted coyotes that appeared to be begging for food. Like Randall and Bowers, he blamed those who feed coyotes for the animals’ predicament.

Hiker Laurie Melan of Studio City was nonetheless outraged by the coyote eradication. “Kill them? Are you kidding? I love the beauty of seeing them,” Melan said.

Two other hikers, Trace Ayala of Burbank and Mark Vannuki of West Hollywood, said they have traversed virtually every trail in Griffith Park without ever feeling threatened by a coyote.

“Now, snakes, they’re a different story,” Vannuki said with a grin.