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Living with the coyote next door

Living with the coyote next door
A coyote crosses the street in L.A.'s Westlake neighborhood. (National Park Service)

No matter where you live in southern California, chances are that there is a coyote relatively nearby — skittish, generally unobtrusive, most likely wary of humans, but capable of being a vicious killer of rodents, rabbits and small pets. Maybe you have figured out how to deal with this neighbor, maybe you haven't.

Coyotes, on the other hand, have us completely figured out. They den under our house decks and in our bushes. They lap up figs from fruiting trees and all the other food garbage we carelessly leave out. They've been observed waiting cautiously to cross streets, listening for traffic to die down before taking a few steps then dashing to the other side. They are, say the scientists who study them, becoming increasingly comfortable with us, realizing that they have little to fear. We don't kill them, after all, and we generally stay away from them when we can.

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So are they becoming more aggressive? There were only two reported coyote attacks on people in 2011 in Los Angeles County; in 2015, that number went up to 15. Last year, it was 16. And there's been an increase in the number of county residents receiving rabies shots for coyote bites from two in 2012 to 13 last year. (Most coyotes are not rabid.) Those numbers hardly constitute a public health emergency, but the increases are a bit unsettling.

A coyote pup on a porch in L.A.'s Westlake neighborhood.
A coyote pup on a porch in L.A.'s Westlake neighborhood. (National Park Service)

Perhaps no urban wild animal so provokes us like coyotes do. When bears lumber down into our neighborhoods, they usually retreat back to their forests. Rats and raccoons are annoying but rarely seem threatening. But coyotes have trotted after us on running paths and stared us down as we walk the dog. They scare us with their distant howling and enrage us when they grab a beloved pet and make off with it, leaving behind a trail of blood and a heartbroken owner.

Coyotes act like they belong here. And they do. Southern California is as much their territory as it is ours. Living with them, especially if they are becoming more comfortable with us, will certainly become more of a challenge. Yes, particularly aggressive coyotes should be caught and killed. Even the Humane Society of the United States agrees to that as a last resort for coyotes that attack a human, unprovoked.

But Angelenos can't simply evict coyotes from neighborhoods or ban them the way they can oversize RVs. The best we can do is make our backyards less inviting to coyotes and try to scare them off.

An interaction with an aggressive coyote is different from other bizarre wild animal-domestic human encounters. The aggressive sea lion that lunged out of the water in a British Columbia harbor and pulled a young girl into the water several days ago (both girl and beast were unharmed) could easily have been avoided if people hadn't been feeding the creatures. But coyotes live among us and show no signs of moving out.

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