Education: the Difference Between Fear and Respect for coyotes

Post by Danielle Lichtenwalner

This image depicts a sign in Colorado warning residents of especially active coyotes in the area. The text reads, “COLORADO PARKS & WILDLIFE. Coyotes Are Active In This Area. Coyotes in populated areas are typically less fearful of people.They have been known to attack pets and approach people too closely. Please read and share these tips with your children” with a list of what to do if a coyote approaches, how to protect your pets, and how to prepare in case of these incidents. Image: Christina Dawidowicz

I grew up on a small piece of acreage about two minutes outside of a big neighborhood, surrounded by open space. We had a handful of barn cats, goats, and horses. I remember staying up late, haunted by the howling coyotes on our property, terrified they were going to harm our pets. There were nights the coyotes were bold enough to come directly onto our porch, sniffing at the door and sending the dogs in the house into a barking frenzy.            

Through the years, I have seen countless Facebook posts, youtube videos, tweets, and news articles detailing the latest coyote attack in my hometown. The story is usually the same, a solo person on a walk (usually with a small dog) runs into a coyote when on a walk through the open space backed up to the neighborhood, and the coyote attacks causing harm to the person or their pet. My mom told us stories about how when she was living in her first apartment, one coyote snatched up her small dog and carried it for 100 feet while she followed suit, throwing rocks at the coyote until he dropped her dog.

Because of these horror stories, I have spent years of my life dreading coyotes. My family responded to hearing coyotes by getting the shotguns out of the safe and waiting for them to get close enough to take aim. This was my inspiration for my project, with the goal of creating education programs for my hometown on how to avoid conflicts with coyotes, and what to do if an encounter occurs. Many years ago I saw a quote that has stuck with me, “The only difference between fear and respect is education.” Scientific communication and education of communities, in my opinion, can shed new light on species previously viewed as pests and result in more effective conservation efforts.

Many people would blame coyotes for attacking unprovoked, chalking it up to their violent nature as predators, but human actions have a huge impact on coyote-human conflicts. We as humans can help reduce these conflicts in urban areas with very simple actions, such as keeping unruly trash cans sealed and contained so as not to provide scraps and extra food sources to coyotes (Adams).. Maintaining safe distances and not feeding coyotes can help maintain their fear of people and prevent the association between humans and food from forming. Another unintentional food source humans provide is unfortunately their pets. Coyotes have been known to attack and eat cats and small dogs, with almost 50% of observed interactions between coyotes and cats ending fatally for the cat. Dogs have more complex interactions with coyotes, with small dogs more likely to end up injured (Grubbs et al), but this is also dependent on individual coyotes, time of day, size of coyote pack, etc (Boydston et al)..

As urban areas continue to expand, it is obvious coyotes are not going anywhere. Coyotes continue to survive and thrive in these urban areas, and it is unrealistic and inhumane to expect to eradicate coyotes from these areas as we move into spaces that were previously theirs. Education is the most realistic way to help reduce these conflicts and learn to live alongside coyotes more peacefully.


Danielle Lichtenwalner is from Broomfield, Colorado and is a senior at the University of Wyoming studying Zoology.

references

Adams, Morgan. Evaluating the role of citizen science in the context of human-wildlife conflict management. Colorado State University, 2014.

Boydston, Erin E., et al. “Canid vs. canid: insights into coyote-dog encounters from social media.” Human–Wildlife Interactions 12.2 (2018): 9.

Dawidowicz, Christina. “Be Cautious: Coyotes Are Active, Protective of Their Pups, Says CPW.” FOX21 News Colorado, FOX21 News Colorado, 10 July 2020, https://www.fox21news.com/digital-now/be-cautious-coyotes-are-active-protective-of-their-pups-says-cpw/.

Grubbs, Shannon E., and Paul R. Krausman. “Observations of Coyote-Cat Interactions.” The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 73, no. 5, [Wiley, Wildlife Society], 2009, pp. 683–85, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40208427.

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