If local residents want to make sure their homes are protected from wildlife, namely coyotes, then the first preventative measure should be to examine personal habits, because many behaviors, such as feeding wild animals– although well intentioned– may actually be harming the ecosystem, according to experts at a community seminar on Oct. 12.
Long Beach Animal Care Services (ACS) hosted the public event at the Wardlow Park Community Center, 3457 Stanbridge Ave., to inform residents about coyotes within the city, including topics such as coyote behavior, attractants, deterrent methods, pet safety, state response, the City’s management plan and details and updates regarding an ongoing coyote study.
According to wildlife experts at the seminar, coyotes within the city have been a recurring issue in the region for years, affecting every area of Long Beach and surrounding cities.
Loyola Marymount University (LMU) is currently conducting a study on the habits of coyotes in Long Beach, the results of which would assist in updating the The City’s Coyote Management Plan and establish a long-term monitoring program.
Presenting the university’s findings to the public that Thursday evening, Eric Strauss, Ph.D, president’s professor at LMU, said coyote behaviors are difficult to determine because their psychology is very “elastic.”
“Coyotes are shape-shifters,” he said. “They will continue to modify social patterns in response to the availability of food. […] And what’s interesting about coyotes is that they are taking on the ecological role of top-order predators because they are not confronting wolves and other animals they would be in competition with.”
Strauss explained that the coyote study, which has only been worked on for a few months, is primarily focusing on capturing the animal’s social intelligence and habitual behaviors, which involves the use of field data and analyzing coyote abundance, density and movement within the city, particularly near Long Beach Fire Department Station 19 and surrounding areas, a section that residents said coyotes frequent quite often, according to Strauss.
Those involved in the study utilize automatically operated, motion-sensor cameras to snap and record pictures and videos– which, from the middle of June to the end of August, has captured more than 33,000 still images. They are also using equipment to gather scat samples and are currently investigating ways to effectively analyze them.
Coyotes are separated into two categories– transients, who are solitary and not part of a pack, and residents, who represent the breeding portion of the population. Strauss said transient coyotes are significantly the type of critter to roam residential areas.
Moreover, he introduced another method to document where coyotes spend their time– using a cat. Before a cat goes out at night, individuals can attach a small heat-sensing device to their pet, and, the next day, residents can grab the device and download the data to a computer to monitor animal movement from that evening.
Strauss said the method has been implemented in Germany, Costa Rica, New England and now in Long Beach.
“It’s incredibly cool,” he said, “because you get so much data, it doesn’t hurt the cat and what you find […] is that if the cats think the coyotes are risks, as you would imagine, this foraging space would be smaller. If the risk is low, they will travel longer distance.”
He said other scientists called it the “ecology of few,” because “you don’t have to be preyed upon to worry about your safety.” The method allows for the understanding of the level of risk in neighborhoods, Strauss added.
As far as coyote diets are concerned, they consist of “whatever is easily accessible.” He addressed the concerns residents have about their pets and the potentiality of a coyote seeing their loved animal as what’s next for dinner. Strauss said only about one percent of the scat data collected consisted of domestic animals, primarily cats.
Regardless, he added that the scat number might even be a bit misleading, because he noted that cats and dogs might not be seen as food to a coyote, but, rather, as competition.
“So, if an animal kills another animal and doesn’t eat it, we are of course not going to see its remains show up in scat,” Strauss said, adding that there is no concrete data to determine how often that is the case, although he predicted that it was low.
He also said food is a great modifier of coyote behavioral patterns, because “if a coyote finds food in your back yard once, it’s going to keep looking again and again and again.”
Ted Stevens, bureau manager of ACS, said in his presentation that Thursday evening that coyotes usually become habituated when they learn that people are a source of food. Coyote habituation is a learned behavior, and he said residents reinforce their habits when they feed them food or simply ignore them.
Coyote attractants include pet food and water outside, unsecured garbage cans, messy bird feeders, fruit left on the ground, accessible vegetable gardens, compost piles and free-roaming unattended pets.
Stevens said residents should eliminate these attractants and wildlife feeding, take precautions with pets and educate neighbors and children about strategies. He also emphasized that California law prohibits the feeding of wildlife.
“It’s important to know– changing coyote behavior means changing our behavior,” he said.
Stevens explained that the ACS Wildlife Policy encourages the healthy co-existence of the public and natural wildlife. Based on the current ACS Coyote Management Plan, the organization will respond if residents report a sick or injured coyote, a stray coyote during the day in areas around people or if a coyote is threatening to attack a person or pet.
ACS has a tiered-response plan that can be read in full– along with other details about coyotes, such as hazing tactics– at longbeach.gov/acs/wildlife. ACS can also be reached at (562) 570-7387.
Stevens said coyote attacks on people are very rare. On average, there are less than 20 bites per year throughout the United States, compared to 4.5 million dog bites per year in the United States, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016 City of Long Beach information revealed there were zero coyote bites or attacks, 371 dog bites and 48 cat bites.
Strauss and Stevens noted that the relocation and mass killings of coyotes are not ideal solutions to the problem, either. They agreed that it simply “moves the problem to another community” or will simply encourage transient coyotes to fill vacated home ranges.
The result is an endless cycle of killing and doesn’t promote co-existence or acceptable behavior to coyotes or residents.
“If you take a territorial coyote from an area– that coyote has been defending that area– when you pull it out, you localize the increase in density,” Strauss said. “That’s suddenly undefended space. And, so, something that you have to ask is if the removal if this one coyote is worth two more.”
Lindsay Messett, a Long Beach resident who attended the seminar and lives near El Dorado Park, said part of the issue with coyotes is that people are simply misguided and are unwilling to change their patterns.
“For some reason, coyotes have such a polarizing effect– you either love them or you hate them,” Messett told the Signal Tribune. “There’s no real neutral ground. I think it’s because, with coyotes, people are encountering them more, and the general public doesn’t really encounter wildlife that is that large on a daily basis usually. So, now that they are, a lot of people are fear-based. They just don’t know. But, if more people understand more about them, they’ll be less afraid and kind of spread that. A lot of that just comes from fear and not knowing their biology and behavior patterns and why they do certain things.
Matthew Duncan, a resident in Orange, said his community has co-existed with coyotes for years and that dogs in the neighborhood tend to be bigger threats than coyotes. He said residents need to learn how to close the lids on trash cans, not feed wildlife and eliminate any and all attractants.
“Co-exist– I think that’s an important word,” he said after the event. “We can co-exist. I’ve been co-existing with them since I was a little kid. […] I always grew up in awe of them. They are very intelligent. So, I never feared them. And I never realized there was so much fear. […] The coyote is just behaving like a coyote.”