Advertisement
  1. News

Don't feed the coyotes: State wildlife officials warn residents to keep small pets safe

Florida has seen an increase in coyote-related calls to the state Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission's Wildlife Assistance Program. [Photo courtesy Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission]
Published Feb. 19, 2018

HOLIDAY — At 6:30 a.m. on a day last November, Wanda Dean woke up to her hysterical and tearful 89-year-old mother.

"Wanda, they got him!" she yelped. "They tore his head off."

When Wanda went to inspect her mother's backyard, Morris, the stray cat her mother cared for, was dead.

"Half of him was gone," Dean said. "I was thinking, 'This is what my mother just came and saw.'"

In the weeks before the incident, the mother-daughter duo heard claims from neighbors that four coyotes had built a den on the edge of a golf course less than a mile from her mother's Holiday home. But coyotes in Florida, especially Pasco County, were a novel idea to them until that day.

Last year, Pasco County had 33 coyote-related calls to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, according to data they recently released.

In 2017, the wildlife commission's Wildlife Assistance Program received 792 coyote calls statewide, nearly 100 more than two years prior. So far in 2018, the program has received eight coyote-related calls from Pasco County.

Coyotes are not a new neighbor, officials said. They likely were first brought to Florida in the 1920s to train hunting dogs.

The pointed-ear, 20- to 30-pound Canis Latrans was a western species, but expanded its range to north Florida in the 1960s and 1970s, according to the wildlife commission.

Pasco and Hernando counties began seeing coyotes in the 1980s, officials said, when the animal's range expanded rapidly throughout the state. Now, coyotes are considered a naturalized species in all 67 Florida counties.

Coyotes have expanded across the nation because of the decline of other predator populations, a wildlife commission spokesperson said, and changed habitats because of urban development and agriculture.

While coyotes may be new to some, the wildlife commission said it is common for coyotes to coexist with humans in neighborhoods, especially in urban areas. Coyotes may even help maintain a balanced ecosystem by controlling populations of rodents and other nuisance wildlife.

Humans probably can be blamed for the coyote expansion by reducing the animals' natural habitat, said Raoul Boughton, assistant professor in the department of wildlife at the University of Florida. Yet, urban areas are full of resources for the scavenger animals, he said, including pet food, bird seed, garbage, rodents and stray cats. Reports from golf courses, cemeteries and baseball fields are common, but coyotes go where food is available.

"Urban areas are rich in food resources to a coyote who will eat just about anything," Boughton said. "And why hunt, when you can scavenge from people?"

That is why residents with small pets must be careful.

Coyotes are becoming less afraid of humans, Boughton said, because people keep feeding them.

"Most attacks that have occurred on humans have been because a coyote has been habituated to human contact," Boughton said.

Residents should treat coyotes like they would an "unknown, non-leashed dog," he said.

Attempts to remove coyotes are "inefficient and ineffective," the wildlife commission said, because new coyotes populate where others have been removed. The species can produce more pups per liter to repopulate.

For many residents, the coyote presence in Pasco County has been a myth, but Dean wants other Pasco residents to know the threat of coyotes is real. What happened to her and her mother can happen to them and their small pets, too.

"When they experience first-hand, their own pet," she paused, looking down. "It is one of the most horrendous things I have ever experienced."

Contact TyLisa C. Johnson at tyjohnson@tampabay.com. Follow @tylisajohnson.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Authorities found 29-year-old Sharee Bradley stabbed to death on Aug. 5. The chief says she had three children; the 12-year-old and 3-year-old were found safe, but Nevaeh had disappeared. Sumter Police Department/Facebook
    DNA from the remains found Friday has been matched to Nevaeh Adams, Sumter Police Chief Russell Roark told reporters.
  2. Cars back up at a Tampa intersection last October, not long before Hillsborough County voters approved a one-cent sales tax for transportation improvements. This week, local officials detailed how the money would be spent, if the tax survives a legal challenge before the Florida Supreme Court. URSO, CHRIS  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Local governments have plans for $527 million in projects. But the Florida Supreme Court would need to clear the way.
  3. FILE - In this Sunday, April 22, 2018, file photo, a statue of a chained man is on display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a new memorial to honor thousands of people killed in racist lynchings, in Montgomery, Ala. Facing an impeachment inquiry that he and supporters claim is illegal, President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, that the process is a lynching. Some Republicans agree, but the relatives of actual lynching victims don’t. BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Made in a tweet that drew backing from some Republican supporters including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Trump’s claim was ill-informed at best and racist at worst, they said.
  4. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Damien Wiggins Jr. was found with a gunshot wound in the parking lot of a vacant business on Haines Road.
  5. FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2018 file photo, Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz listens during a status check on his case at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. As his death penalty trial draws closer, a hearing is set for school shooting defendant Cruz in the 2018 massacre that killed 17 people. The hearing Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, likely concerns the setting of timelines leading up to the planned January trial of the 21-year-old Cruz. AMY BETH BENNETT  |  AP
    The hearing Wednesday likely concerns the setting of timelines leading up to the planned January trial of the 21-year-old Cruz.
  6. FILE - This undated file photo released by the FBI shows 3-year-old Kamille McKinney, who police say has been missing since she was abducted while attending a birthday party on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Birmingham, Ala. Investigators searching through garbage found the body of McKinney, who was missing more than a week, and authorities are charging two people with murder, police said Tuesday, Oct. 22. AP
    The child, known as “Cupcake” to relatives, vanished while outside a birthday party on Oct. 12. Investigators know of no link between the suspects and the girl or her family, police say.
  7. An aerial view as police forensic officers attend the scene after a truck was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Thurock, South England, early Wednesday Oct. 23, 2019. Police in southeastern England said that 39 people were found dead Wednesday inside a truck container believed to have come from Bulgaria. UK POOL  |  AP
    “We are in the process of identifying the victims, however, I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process," Essex Police Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner said.
  8. A top U.S. diplomat, William Taylor, departs the Capitol after testifying in the Democrats' impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
    Democrats said they were shocked and disturbed by what they heard. A look at the key takeaways from Taylor’s statement, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
  9. A Florida black bear (not this one) was found at a Marion County school and removed. CARLTON WARD JR  |  Carlton Ward Jr
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. Weeki Wachee Springs main entrance VAUGHN HUGHES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    From its iconic mermaids to its signature statue, Weeki Wachee Springs will be considered for historic designation.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement