There have been several coyote sightings in the area of at late, with the most recent in Candlelight Estates and Oak Forest last week as documented and posted online. Even Alan Bernstein, the director of communications for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, was aware of it.
“That particular coyote has been getting some attention on Facebook,” Bernstein said.
The city received 117 coyote calls in 2017 and got another 109 last year. So far in 2019, 89 people have called 311 to report seeing one.
If you are one of them, Bernstein said the city, in all likelihood, is not going to send out animal control.
“The city will only intervene with wildlife under certain circumstances,” Bernstein said. “The city is not obligated to remove or relocate such animals by ordinance.”
The lack of alarm is partly because these animals are not going anywhere – and so far have been no danger to humans.
“Coyotes are transient animals and Houston’s bayous and byways are like a super highway for them,” Bernstein said. “Coyote attacks are extraordinarily rare and to our staff’s knowledge Houston has never had a person attacked by a coyote.”
Neighborhood residents say they have been surprised by this particular coyote’s lack of skittishness around humans and the number of daylight sightings of the animal as well as by the fact it is traveling alone.
According to Diana Foss, a wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, urban coyotes, especially adults, often travel alone.
“It can be active day and night, especially if land has been cleared nearby for development,” Foss said. “The coyote might be looking for new habitat if its old spot has flooded or been cleared. Our urban coyotes are able to utilize tiny bits of habitat and green spaces and use a variety of byways to move between those green spaces – like sidewalks, greenbelts, utility easements, roads, ditches and bayou banks.”
Foss said the urban coyote’s diet is made up of small rodents, rabbits, fruit, birds, white-tailed deer fawns, raccoons and assorted other items. Often, though, what attracts them is us. The Humane Society describes it as a “free buffet.” Pet food, compost or trash can bring a coyote into your yard and keep it coming back until the supply is exhausted.
Dos for keeping coyotes away are not feeding pets outside, using enclosed bins for compost and never composting meat or fish scraps, cleaning up spilled bird seed, removing fallen fruit from the ground and keeping trash in containers with tight fitting lids along with placing the cans curbside the morning of collection. Free-roaming pets are also a coyote lure so keep your dogs and cats inside at night and supervised during the day.
Foss said that cats are low on the diet preference of coyotes. However, they are opportunistic feeders. Data from the Urban Coyote Research Project notes that coyotes will shift their diets to take advantage of the most available prey.
Even though coyotes can become habituated to humans, the Humane Society has a variety of hazing techniques that can make them more wary. These include yelling and waving your arms while approaching the coyote, using noise makers like whistles or air horns, using projectiles like tennis balls and utilizing repellents like a hose or bottle of vinegar water. The organization says the simplest method of hazing a coyote is to be loud and large.
Education, not relocation
Many have asked why the coyote in question can’t be relocated.
First, many areas require a permit to trap coyotes, and few will be issued such a permit for the mere presence of a coyote in an area. There are strict rules about the transport of wild animals. Many of those companies that do have permits won’t do it because of the drawbacks.
“We don’t trap and relocate coyotes, or other wild animals, because it’s neither effective nor humane,” said Bonnie Bradshaw, founder of 911 Wildlife, an animal removal company with an office in Houston. “Contrary to public opinion, relocated animals don’t have a ‘wonderful new life out in the country where they belong.’ Multiple peer-reviewed, radio-collar studies have proven that most relocated wild animals die within two weeks after being released in unfamiliar areas. And trapping is an ineffective waste of time, effort and money because relocated animals are quickly replaced by animals from the surrounding areas that are searching for unoccupied territory. Nature hates a vacuum.”
The situations where coyotes are removed are rare.
“In the 13 years we’ve been in business, we’ve only received two calls about coyotes in traps,” Bradshaw said. “The first time it was a person trying to capture a stray dog and they captured a coyote by accident. We advised them to open the trap and release the coyote on site. The second time, the coyote had an advanced case of distemper and needed to be euthanized. We advised the person to call their municipal animal control department to euthanize the coyote on site.”
Bradshaw said, theoretically, if someone captures an injured or orphaned coyote, her company would transport it to the Wildlife Center of Texas. But the reality, according to Bradsahw, is that coyotes — even orphaned, sick or injured ones — are extremely difficult to trap. So it rarely happens.
“If someone sets a large dog-sized trap attempting to catch a coyote, chances are they will only catch opossums and raccoons,” she said.
Foss said in certain circumstances, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department law enforcement and game wardens have been called in regarding ill and injured coyotes that did not require trapping.
Debbie Mitchell with the Wildlife Center of Texas said she’s only known of one woman who trapped a coyote to bring to the center, which will accept those ill or injured.
“It took her three months,” Mitchell said.
BARC will respond to service requests where there is a possibility of a rabies exposure, a wild animal inside a living room or bedroom, or if there is an animal in a humane trap that is considered a high risk for carrying rabies, such as skunks, foxes, coyotes or raccoons.
“The key is modifying the habitat and changing human behavior,” Bradshaw said.