The news that a neighborhood coyote had died last week brought a torrent of comments on The Leader’s Facebook page – especially after one commenter said the animal had been shot.
Houston Police Department spokesperson John Cannon confirmed that police were called to 2200 Eclipse St. on Nov. 12 about a dead coyote. An officer later talked to a woman who was walking a dog along the bayou around 7:15 a.m. when she heard a popping sound that she thought was a gunshot. Cannon said the woman reported seeing a coyote run across the gully and also saw an older white male who had a gun. The woman then left immediately.
Stephanie Campbell, an area resident who owns a dog-walking business, said the walker who was employed by her does not live in the neighborhood and was unaware of any coyote sightings. Campbell said her employee was frightened by her proximity to the man with the gun.
“She said that (when she yelled) he seemed very surprised to see her,” Campbell said.
It was Campbell who initially called 3-1-1 and was told that since the incident involved the discharge of a firearm, it was a police matter.
News of the coyote’s demise elicited a strong response from residents such as Megan Paschall, who said the coyote was a regular traveler by her house.
“We have just as many stray animals that aren’t small coyotes,” Paschall said. “It’s awful. Wildlife is nice to have.”
Others said they wouldn’t have to worry so much now about their outdoor dogs and cats. Many said the coyote looked too thin and was perhaps dying slowly from starvation. Some believed that shooting a coyote was better than the alternatives.
“Personally, I think shooting them is far more humane than setting out (conibear) traps,” LeeAnn Hickman said. “But catch and release is not considered an option because you’ll just be relocating a nuisance animal from one place to another.”
Bonnie Bradshaw with 911 Wildlife, a wildlife removal and relocation company with offices in Houston, said the good-riddance attitude regarding coyotes is typical in neighborhoods throughout the U.S.
“The key is that as long as food, shelter and water are available, another coyote will soon replace the one that died,” Bradshaw said. “And if it was an alpha female, her death will trigger the other females in the surrounding area to have larger litters in the spring.”
Bradshaw also said the normal, healthy weight of a coyote in Texas is only 25 pounds.
“People in urban areas compare coyotes to their often-overweight dogs,” she said.
A person who is passionate about coyotes is Camilla H. Fox, the founder and executive director of Project Coyote – a national nonprofit organization based in Mill Valley, California, that promotes compassionate conservation and coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.
Fox calls the coyote a “maligned carnivore” and said it is estimated that 500,000 coyotes are killed each year by humans, partly because they are unprotected by law in 42 states.
There are no definitive population counts for coyotes either.
“They’re not valued enough to monitor,” Fox said.
Texas is a state where coyotes are undefended and classified as a non-game species. TPWD Wildlife biologist Diana Foss of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department said it is illegal to kill a coyote for commercial purposes on publicly owned land in Texas.
“However, it is legal to (kill) a coyote on private property for any reason,” Foss said. “The person taking the coyote must have a current hunting license. No permit from TPWD is needed.”
Foss also said a newly passed law, House Bill 4544, allows certain cities, such as Houston, to manage coyotes by capturing, relocating or euthanizing a coyote located within the city limits or the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction or by requesting assistance from Texas Wildlife Services.
Relocating a coyote, according to Bradshaw, also likely means death.
“Contrary to public opinion, relocated animals don’t have a wonderful new life out in the country where they belong,” Bradshaw said. “Multiple peer-reviewed, radio-collar studies have proven that most relocated wild animals die within two weeks after being released in unfamiliar areas.”
The incident along the bayou last week warranted a police visit because it is illegal to discharge a firearm inside the corporated limits of a municipality having a population of 100,000 or more.
“It’s dangerous,” Cannon said. “No matter what you are shooting at, it’s still an illegal discharge of firearms.”
Cannon said anyone with information about the incident should call HPD.
Fox said the irony is that if humans left coyotes alone to self-regulate, they would do so.
Project Coyote’s Coyote Friendly Communities program aims to give both urban and rural audiences the tools to foster coexistence.
“We need to teach coyotes (about) the behavior we don’t support,” Fox said.