Wily coyotes becoming more brazen
August 4, 2004
Animals increasingly cross into urban areas
By Gregory Crofton
Tribune staff writer
Like greyhounds chasing a rabbit at the track, coyotes can run up to 40 miles an hour in short bursts, much faster than cats and small dogs can run.
El Dorado County Animal Control gets calls every year about coyotes snatching small dogs off leashes and cats disappearing without a trace. Often it’s because the domestic animals or the food they eat are left outside at night.
“We don’t get as many calls as we used to, I don’t know why,” said Doug Petri, an animal control officer. “They like cats. They tend to make better meals than rodents because there’s more meat on them. But they’re scavenger animals and will eat whatever’s available to them.”
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Petri said in his experience coyotes are becoming more comfortable around people; the same way bears in the Lake Tahoe Basin have become more accustomed to human behavior.
“They are very brazen,” Petri said. “I’m seeing behavior I’ve never seen before. They are acting nonchalant and not being scared off as quickly.”
Wildlife biologist Shane Romsos, of the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, estimates that given the size of the basin, 70 to 150 coyotes make Tahoe their year-round home.
“Their population size is primarily regulated by food availability,” Romsos said. “Their population in the basin is not necessarily large, it’s just that people live within their habitat and see them foraging about.”
Coyotes are native to Tahoe and live to be about 8 years old in the wild. In captivity, they can live up to 10 years longer. When coyotes mate, the male and female stay together for years, breeding each year starting around February, Romsos said.
The animals will travel alone and can be spotted in the basin at night or during the day. If they are in a pack, the pack typically consists of family members. Petri said the largest pack he has seen contained four coyotes.
The group howl that can be heard at night is the sound of coyotes communicating with each other.
“It is unclear what their barks and calls mean,” Romsos said. “But they may be communicating about incursions into their territory by non-group member coyotes, announcing a kill and inviting other members to join in, or just announcing their position in the landscape.”
Their only predator in the basin is the mountain lion, of which there are not many, Romsos said. But coyotes, no matter how fast they run, still get hit and killed by cars. Collisions often happen on Highway 50 near Lake Tahoe Airport.
In areas with more wildlife, such as Yellowstone National Park, coyotes have a greater number of natural enemies. Wolves, golden eagles and great horned owls have all been known to kill and eat coyotes, Romsos said.
Black bears and coyotes pretty much leave each other alone. But sometimes coyotes will take advantage of a bear’s handiwork. The bear does the Dumpster diving, the coyotes sit back and take advantage of opened garbage bags and cans.
“They don’t fear each other, it’s amazing,” said Ann Bryant, executive director of the BEAR League. “Once a bear tears into something, coyotes, a lot of the time, are waiting right behind them.”
– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org