BY FREDA MIKLINGOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
On November 21, Greenwood Village held its annual community information meeting about living with coyotes, hosted by city experts GVPD Commander Joe Gutgsell and code enforcement officer Faith Wilbers. Sergeant Scott Jones was also available to answer questions.
Though the small crowd of residents who attended was consistent with the low level of reported coyote activity in GV recently, Jefferson County Open Spaces Visitor Services Manager Mary Ann Bonnell did not skimp on her regular hour-long presentation on coyote behavior, history, and advice.
Bonnell first addressed the question, “Why are coyotes here?” No one knows why their numbers have increased significantly in urban areas, but in addition to metro Denver, coyotes have become common in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. Animal experts believe they are here in our area because they are opportunistic and, according to Bonnell, this “is a dreamscape for a coyote. It offers large open spaces, fruit trees, irrigation, and lots of bunnies and squirrels.” They cannot be eliminated. If a coyote is removed (meaning killed, since Colorado law prohibits relocation), another will definitely arrive to take its place. Only those with proven dangerous behavior are considered for removal, in the hope that the one that replaces it will behave normally. Gutgsell talked about the GV coyote management plan, which is available to the public from the police department. He said there was only once documented coyote attack on a pet (in north GV) in the past year and it was, luckily, not lethal .There were only three reported sightings in The Preserve neighborhood this year, which used to be a busy place for coyotes, since it abuts a nature preserve and has unfenced yards. Based on the police department’s map of reported sightings, most of the coyotes in GV have moved to the eastern part of the city. No one knows why.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Almost no animal in America is more adaptable to changing conditions than the coyote. Coyotes can live just about anywhere.” Bonnell explained that Colorado coyotes’ preferred diet, according to evidence collected by researchers, consists of rodents, rabbits, deer (a pack can take one down), raccoons, and skunks. Still, “A true scavenger, the coyote will eat just about anything,” the USDA tells us. If snakes and foxes, doughnuts and sandwiches, or just plain garbage are what is available, that will suffice for a coyote.
In terms of pets, coyotes will eat cats along with their cat food if it’s out, but generally don’t eat dogs. To a coyote, a dog is a competitor that they want to kill to protect their territory. They don’t view them as food under normal circumstances. Bonnell explained that coyotes will pretend they want to play with dogs in order to lure them away so they can attack and kill them. Her advice is to keep cats indoors and stay close to your always-leashed dog when it is outdoors. Dogs attract coyotes’ attention, but humans who know what to do are a deterrent.
Coyotes are empirically not dangerous to humans. In all of North America, there have been only been two documented human fatalities, one in the 1980’s of a child in California and one in 2009 of a 19-year-old woman in Canada. But, Bonnell cautioned, they bite. The best way to get most normal coyotes to back off is to haze them. Animal experts have developed an acronym for how to haze, called SMART:
Stop and turn around. Look at the animal.
Although they resemble several breeds of dogs, coyotes can be identified by their erect ears, slender muzzle, and bushy tails. Most are brownish gray in color with a light gray to cream-colored belly, according to USDA. It is important to be aware that coyotes (who are monogamous) breed in February and March and pups are born in April and May. Those times are particularly dangerous for conflicts with dogs because the males are keen about protecting their territory. Dens can be found in unexpected places, including storm drains, under storage sheds, in holes dug in vacant lots, parks, golf courses, or any other dark, dry place.
During pup rearing, which occurs over their first six months, the pups develop permanent teeth and are taught to hunt for food. It is a very active time for coyote families, therefore the most important time to keep your eye on your dog (Writer’s note: We lost our dog to a family of coyotes in early May ten years ago. Our dog was outside alone when a coyote parent was teaching its pups how to kill a dog). It is also important not to leave food outside. If food is left out, the pups quickly learn not to fear humans and develop a dependency on easy food sources.
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