An incident in which a coyote attacked a 2-year-old girl at a Cypress cemetery last week has incited fears in some local residents that the coyote population in Southern California has become a growing problem.
“They’ve let this go too long, and this is why [coyotes are] attacking human beings now,” said Patty Van Winkle, a Long Beach resident and owner of Bill’s Top Shop in Signal Hill.
Van Winkle said she has seen about three coyotes a week on her way to work at 7:00 in the morning and believes some of them are dwelling in the Municipal Cemetery property off of Willow Street in Signal Hill.
Van Winkle said she has seen dozens of stray cats killed this year and has heard reports of coyotes becoming more brazen and aggressive toward humans.
Still, state and local officials say coyote attacks against humans are “rare” and offer guidelines on how to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.
Klarissa Barrera, 2 years old, of Long Beach was with her mother at Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks & Mortuaries at 4471 Lincoln Ave. in Cypress last Thursday, July 18 just feet away from where her family was visiting a relative’s gravesite when a coyote attacked the child and dragged her into the bushes, according to the Orange County Register.
The mother was eventually able to break the girl free from the coyote’s grasp.
The girl is reportedly recuperating after receiving rabies shots and being treated for puncture wounds. The girl received two bites from the coyote in the hip and leg areas, said Mark Michilizzi, a game warden with the California Fish and Wildlife Department. He said the puncture wounds were consistent with wounds from a canine.
Witnesses confirmed the incident, and cemetery employees had reported seeing coyotes that evening, Michilizzi said. Game wardens later shot and killed three coyotes at the cemetery.
The warden said coyotes in the cemetery had been described as “extremely bold” and “weren’t afraid of humans.” Officials have reported that it’s the first coyote attack against a human in Orange County this year.
Michilizzi said it’s unclear what sparked the attack but added that it could have been that the coyote was hungry because of a lack of natural food sources or could have become “habituated” or “overexposed” to humans.
In some cases, coyotes may start to depend on people for sustenance, feeding on pets or scraps and pet food left outside. Coyotes normally prey on rodents, such as mice and rats, he said.
“The bottom line is we’re dealing with wild animals and they’re oftentimes unpredictable,” Michilizzi.
Coyotes are abundant in California, and they often forage through urban areas in search of food as their habitats continue to be encroached by development and overpopulation.
Michilizzi said coyotes hide in vegetation, riverbeds and large parks with ponds and estuaries that make for suitable dens. He said the predators typically hunt at night and early in the morning.
Coyote activity is typically higher during warmer months in the spring and summer, which is the time of year when coyotes are raising their pups.
“There are a lot of areas where wildlife corridors intersect with human development,” Michilizzi said. “These conflicts of wildlife are something that happen as a result of that. It’s our mission to minimize [incidents] as much as we can.”
After the incident, Long Beach Animal Care Services (ACS), which contracts with Cerritos, Seal Beach, Signal Hill and Los Alamitos, issued a press release, offering guidelines for residents to protect themselves and their pets from coming in contact with a coyote.
ACS reports that “there has never been a coyote attack on a person in Long Beach,” and The Humane Society of the United States estimates there to be an average of only 10 coyote attacks on people a year in the entire United States and Canada.
Last week, the Signal Tribune reported that residents in Long Beach (California Heights and Bixby Knolls areas) and Signal Hill have seen a rise in coyote sightings in recent months and have seen cats and dogs killed. Coyotes have been known to dwell in these areas as well as El Dorado Park and Naples.
Ted Stevens, director of ACS, said he discourages any trapping and killing program to solve the problem since coyotes eventually return to the area.
Instead, ACS instructs residents to “haze” the coyotes, a technique that involves: standing tall and making yourself look big while waving your arms; yelling at them to go away; throwing objects toward them; or spraying them with water.
“It is essential that coyotes retain their natural fear of humans,” ACS staff states. “Never run from a coyote. Keep constant eye contact with the coyote and continue to move toward other people, a building or an area of activity.”