A recent coyote attack on a 5-year-old boy at California State University in Los Angeles has raised the issue of how the public can protect themselves from urban wildlife.
According to news reports, the 5-year-old boy was expected to recover. Authorities have set traps for the coyote that bit him. The animal may have been shot by a campus police officer, but there are no reports that the animal has been caught.
Coyote attacks on human beings are rare. There has only been one death in California, which took place in 1981.
In Seal Beach, there were six coyote sightings reported to Long Beach Animal Care Services in February, a decrease from the 15 sightings reported in January.
In January, the city issued notices warning Seal Beach residents of increased coyote activity.
Animal control experts recommend the public “haze” coyotes, which basically means people should try to frighten the animals off. According to the U.S. Humane Society, examples of hazing include standing tall, yelling and waving arms while approaching the coyote; using a whistle, air horn, bell or other device; banging pots or pans together; stomping your feet; using a water hose, pepper spray, or throwing tennis balls or rocks at the coyote.
However, California law also prohibits cruelty to animals. Animal Care Services Manager Ted Stevens said: “I am not an attorney and can’t provide legal advice, but I tell people it is OK to throw items towards coyotes to haze them, but it should not be in an attempt to hit them or injure them, but to scare them. Unless you are throwing tennis balls, which is unlikely to hurt the coyote, so hitting them would likely be OK. With rocks, you need to be more careful. How big is the rock, is it smooth or jagged. Are you aiming for the face? With rocks I would try to be near them and not hit them. Considering pepper spray is not meant to injure and is sold as a way to haze bears, and only sprays a few feet which means the coyote would have to be very close to you to use it, you should be OK to use pepper spray. I have a small dog and I carry pepper spray when I walk her.”
According to Stevens, based on his conversations with California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials, California law only allows you to use force against a coyote to protect a human being.
“However, on a practical level, I don’t know if someone would actually be prosecuted for defending their pet,” Stevens said.
Long Beach ACS has information on hazing at http://www.longbeach.gov/acs/wildlife/living-with-urban-coyote.
According to Stevens, the information in the 2013 video “How to Haze a Coyote” is “still pretty good.” The video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MOnDIx71Q0.
There have apparently been few scientific studies of the effectiveness of hazing. One such study is “Using Resident-Based Hazing Programs To Reduce Human–Coyote Conflicts In Urban Environments,” by Mary Ann Bonnell and Stewart W. Beck, who made the coyote hazing video.
Bonnell and Beck trained 207 citizens to haze coyotes and documented 96 times that people with training used them on coyotes.
According to their report, “in (more than) 70% of the hazing attempts, the coyote moved (more than) 10 feet away from the person doing the hazing.”
The report said pet dogs were present 42 percent of the time. This apparently made a difference.
“Coyotes moved (more than) 10 feet away from the person hazing 49% of the time when no dog was present, but only 23% of the time when a domestic dog was present,” the report said.
The report concluded that hazing produced a positive short term effect, but recommended “humane removal” of coyotes that had “become exceptionally bold and demonstrated real aggression toward humans.”
Seal Beach had a four-week coyote trapping program in 2014 that ran its course. The program was implemented in response to citizen complaints about pets being killed. The increased coyote activity appeared to coincide with both the California drought and local freeway construction. The program was controversial, both for killing coyotes and for the method of euthanasia used, and led to protests and complaints by activists from the Humane Society and other groups. Three coyotes in all were reportedly euthanized.