Coyote bites fifth person in Bay Area, sparking 24-hour predator hunt
A coyote that has attacked both grown men and children and eluded traps has spawned a massive, 24-hour search in this San Francisco Bay Area suburb, where jittery residents keep children close and hikers carry noisemakers.
The attacks started last summer. In each case, the apparently fearless coyote approached unsuspecting people and bit them before running off. All the victims recovered from their puncture wounds, and DNA has linked the attacks to a single coyote.
The incidents were part of an unusual upswing last year in attacks by wild animals throughout California, said Capt. Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. In 2020, there were more than a dozen coyote bites, three confirmed mountain lion attacks and half a dozen bear encounters, possibly because people were spending more time outdoors during the pandemic, Foy said.
But unlike those other animals, the aggressive East Bay coyote has managed to evade authorities. Padded leg traps set out on private property caught three coyotes in December, but their DNA did not match the culprit’s. The three were euthanized.
A woman whose 3-year-old daughter was bitten here last week said the animal retreated when she waved a blanket and shouted at it, only to keep drawing near again. The woman was pushing a stroller with her daughter at her side when the coyote approached. It finally fled, leaving three bite wounds on the little girl.
During the attack in July, the coyote bit a 2-year-old. The animal let go only after the child’s nanny smacked it with a bicycle helmet, Foy said.
The encounters have occurred in the parking lot of a park, on a residential street and at a high school running track here in Moraga and outside commercial stores in neighboring Lafayette. All occurred in the morning or early evening, when coyotes are most active, within about a two-mile radius.
A child-centric community that has attracted former Bay Area city dwellers, the collection of three woodsy suburbs known as Lamorinda sits east of the Oakland hills and includes lots of open space. Coyotes, along with deer, bobcats, wild turkeys and the occasional mountain lion, have long moved through the area, but predators have limited their hunting to other animals.
Authorities reassured residents on Tuesday that they would catch the elusive coyote.
“A detailed survey of the surrounding terrain has taken place, including using game trail cameras and field tracking, to determine the specific areas of coyote activity and patterns,” read an emailed alert from the Moraga Police Department, which announced the latest victim was a man bitten Friday outside a convenience store in Lafayette.
“Multiple trapping lines are in place, and there is a 24-hour effort to remove this animal.”
Biologists are questioning if ‘hazing’ — deploying loud noises or projectiles — keeps coyotes away from urban areas, as animal rights advocates claim.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are “fully engaged,” the Police Department said.
“There is a 24x7 operation in place and the situation is being worked on every day,” the alert said. “There will also be DFW and/or USDA personnel stationed periodically in the area that are properly equipped to take action if necessary.”
Coyotes generally keep their distance from humans and rarely bite them. Authorities believe this coyote lost its fear of humans possibly because people were feeding it, perhaps inadvertently by leaving dog food out. They said the animal, once it is caught, will be tested for rabies and euthanized.
Foy said he believed all the victims had received rabies shots. A sixth person also was bitten in the area last summer, but Foy said it was reported too late for DNA to be taken.
In this quiet town, which is home to St. Mary’s College, coyote encounters with pets have long been a problem. Just a month ago, coyotes mauled Kevan Gross’ dog — a border collie-pit bull mix named Beatrice — while he walked her before dawn near his home. The vet bill came to $1,000.
“I learned a lot from this,” said the computer support specialist. “Coyotes are much smarter than dogs. They are not a joke.”
Residents should carry whistles or air horns and make as much noise as possible if a coyote approaches, advised Moraga Police Lt. Brian J. South. “What we want to do is the make the environment uncomfortable for coyotes to be around humans,” he said.
Jennifer Lenfestey, 56, who owns the pet store in town, said she has heard of many customers losing cats and small dogs to coyotes over the years, but never one as aggressive as the animal now roaming the streets.
“Every other house here backs up to a hill, and wildlife is all over those hills,” she said. “But this one is going after kids, like hunting them.”
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