Coyotes widespread in Pinellas, but what can you do?

ST. PETERSBURG — They never saw it in Driftwood, but the coyote got Elvis the cat.

In the Mangrove Bay neighborhood, they hear coyotes howl and yip at night, and wonder, "Will it always be safe for evening walks?" In Largo, an amateur photographer out at dawn snapped a photo of one of the elusive canines and e-mailed it to the St. Petersburg Times.

Forget the monkey. You're more likely to see a wily coyote in your urban neighborhood these days. Experts point out that it's pup season, so the wild animals are aggressively looking for things to feed their young.

But don't be scared. That is the message behind a series of talks that wildlife biologist Jeanne Murphy is giving around town in coming weeks, starting with an April 13 discussion at the Pinellas County Extension in Largo.

A coyote is likely to be afraid of you. There are no documented cases of coyotes attacking humans in Florida, though sometimes, humans harm them. We need to take precautions, however.

"A coyote is almost certainly going to be afraid of an adult human, but maybe not a child," said Greg Andrews, operations manager for the county animal agency. "You don't want to leave your child in your back yard, or family pet for that matter."

A month ago, a coyote was in Driftwood. Bonnie Agan and her neighbors know because her cat, Elvis, is gone. The manner of death was a telltale sign.

"The top part of his body was fine. The back bottom part of his body was gone," Agan said.

Andrews agreed that a coyote more than likely claimed the 17-year-old cat's life.

Need more proof that coyotes are everywhere? Take a look at Pinellas County's year-old online coyote tracking map at pinellascounty.org/animalservices/coyotes. Each one of those little blue flags represents a reported sighting. There are a few near Tropicana Field, and a bunch in the middle of residential neighborhoods with no parks nearby.

Andrews surmises that coyotes, which came to Florida in the 1970s and are now in every county, are increasingly encroaching on the southern part of the county, attracted by the bountiful presence of household pets, garbage cans and bird feeders. They get around by following highways and streams.

No one knows how many coyotes there are in Pinellas, but their population is steady. "It's safe to say that there isn't any place in Pinellas County that there isn't coyotes," said veteran trapper Vernon Yates, who lives in Seminole and says one of them is living near his home.

The problem with coyotes is that people do not do enough to deter them, experts say.

"The kindest thing that you can do for these animals is to not encourage their staying around," said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

So take in your dog food, observe the county's leash laws — which includes cats, by the way — and take your garbage out in the morning.

Peter Bradl, who lives in Mangrove Bay in northeast St. Petersburg, now carries his weighty Maglite flashlight when he takes walks at night. He has lived there 30 years, but only recently got to know the coyotes' gripping howl.

When he walks around his property, he finds droppings with animal hair and bone fragments.

Of coyotes, he said: "You hear them all the time."

Reach Luis Perez at lperez@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2271.

if you go

'Florida Coyotes: Safely Coexisting with a Predator'

When: 6:30-7:30 p.m. April 13.

Where: Pinellas County Extension, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo.

To register for this free

event, go online to

pinellascountyextension.org.

Coyote facts

• Scientific name: Canis latrans, or "barking dog."

• Adult coyotes typically weigh between 24 and 37 pounds and live up to 14 years.

• Coat colors vary from gray to rusty brown. Their bushy tails are usually black-tipped.

• Coyotes eat just about anything. Wild fruits, insects, birds and other small mammals are some of their favorite foods, but some coyotes may prey on cats, small dogs and livestock, and garbage and pet food left outside.

• While there have been very few reported cases of western coyotes biting people, in urban areas coyotes can lose their fear of humans as a result of coming to rely on ample food sources, including intentional feeding by residents.

Coyote defense tips

• Don't leave pet food or trash outside overnight.

• Clear brush and weeds to reduce cover.

• Do not leave young children unattended in a back yard.

• Protect pets and livestock.

• Observe the leash law and do not let cats and dogs roam.

• Make coyotes unwelcome. Make a racket, throw rocks in their vicinity (not at them), spray them with a hose.

• Report coyote threats to people or pets at (727) 582-2600.

Source: Pinellas County Animal Services/National Geographic

Coyotes widespread in Pinellas, but what can you do? 04/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 2, 2010 1:49pm]

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