City Coyote’s Plight
Photo: Project Coyote’s Camilla Fox totes a coyote puppet used as a teaching aid while on a stroll at Lake Merced. By Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle
By Jill Tucker
Camilla Fox is fighting an uphill battle against fairy tales and Saturday morning cartoons.
Children’s stories often feature wild canines in unflattering roles – the wolf that eats Grandma and the dim-witted and Acme-loving coyote that can’t seem to hit the beep-beeping roadrunner with an anvil.
As one of the top coyote protectors in the country, Fox – yes, that’s her real name – gets frustrated by the bad rap the relatively diminutive predators get, even in dog-obsessed San Francisco.
To combat the bias, fear and bad human behavior leveled against coyotes, Fox spent Wednesday and Thursday helping train more than 200 city recreation and park managers and staff members, helping them better understand coyote behavior and how humans can coexist with them in an urban environment.
“Coyotes are the most persecuted native carnivores in the U.S.,” said Fox, executive director of the Larkspur-based Project Coyote. “Most of the time, coyotes want to have nothing to do with us.”
Until a decade ago, there were few, if any, coyotes in San Francisco. While native to the area, they largely had been eliminated by trapping and poisoning in the 1950s and 1960s, Fox said.
Then, at least a couple of them trotted across the Golden Gate Bridge and took up residence in city open spaces. There are at least 20 in city parks and more in the Presidio, although no one is formally tracking them. Coyotes are crepuscular, or typically active at dawn and dusk, although daytime appearances are not considered unusual.
Still, any sighting can startle and intimidate joggers, parents pushing strollers, golfers or dog walkers – who frequently report the encounters or complain to Animal Care and Control or to park workers.
But coyotes, contrary to belief, are not likely to seek out the city’s Chihuahuas.
“There are certainly people in this city that have more of a fear of these animals,” said Lisa Wayne, the open-space manager for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. “There have been no confirmed reports of coyotes preying on domestic cats or dogs in the city.”
Frankly, they don’t need to.
Favored menu items
They’d rather hang out on a golf course where manicured lawns attract not only rodents but also Canada geese, with their eggs and goslings – all preferred coyote cuisine.
“So much of what we have to deal with is people misinterpreting animal behaviors,” Fox said. “We can coexist.”
Increasingly, humans and coyotes are living alongside each other in urban areas. In the six-county Chicago region, there are an estimated 2,000 coyotes, Fox told city staff members in her presentation.
San Francisco needs them, she said.
“Coyotes are a native species,” she added. “As a native species, they play a key ecological role.”
City gardener and pest specialist Matt Pruitt, who went through the four-hour coyote training, agreed. Coyotes each can eat up to 1,800 rodents per year. Too many rodents, including gophers and rats, are not conducive to good gardens or golf courses.
Without coyotes – a critical carnivore in the local ecology – raccoons, skunks, foxes and feral cats go unchecked.
“They kind of help balance out the whole biodiversity,” said Pruitt, who considers weeds and fungus the real pests in his
line of work.
He did note that many gardeners often work in the dark, when seeing coyotes and hearing them howl can be a bit intimidating. During the training, Fox played the 20 coyote vocalizations, which contributed to their status as the state’s song dog.
“The more you learn, the more you learn to not be afraid of them,” Pruitt said, adding that it’s somewhat awe-inspiring to see one in the city. “You have to stop and kind of look at them for a few minutes. They’re amazing to see.”
With spring here, it’s the beginning of coyote pupping season, which means the adults can be protective of their dens and territory.
It also means humans – and their dogs – need to give the coyotes an especially wide berth, Fox said. More than 200 city park workers are now armed with the information required to help enforce that.
Frequent park visitor Joe Fuentes, 80, is happy to comply. As he strolled around Lake Merced on a sunny spring day, he noted that he’s a city native, just like the coyotes.
They had been gone for decades, he said. Then one day, maybe five years back, they were back at the lake. “They don’t bother anybody,” he said. “They keep everything in balance. I like seeing them.”
Fox knows, however, that not everyone feels the same way. Coyotes sound scary, and even though they only weigh 15 to 30 pounds, they look scary, too. In fact, they kind of look like wolves. Nationally, 500,000 coyotes are killed each year by public agencies or individuals.
“Little Red Riding Hood,” she said, sighing. “We’re still up against that messaging.”
Get to know the coyotes
Coyotes are members of the dog family and are curious, adaptable and quick learners. They often mate for life and are devoted parents.
Coyotes are not a significant threat to safety. (Lightning, cows and deer pose a greater risk, statistically speaking.) Healthy coyotes can come out in the daytime. Do not assume they are sick or have rabies.
Coyotes are not a significant predator of pets and deer. While they might occasionally take a free-roaming domestic animal or deer, their diet is more likely to consist of rodents, rabbits, insects, fruit and carrion.
They do not use Acme products or disproportionately dislike roadrunners.
Sources: Project Coyote and Chronicle staff report
- Do not feed coyotes.
- Walk pets on leash – especially during spring and early summer pupping season.
- Supervise small pets and children and keep cats inside.
- Secure garbage, compost and pet food.
- “Haze” coyotes near homes or community spaces; act big, mean and loud. Don’t run if approached. Make noise and walk toward the coyotes until they retreat.
- Protect livestock with guard animals and secure fencing.
Source: Project Coyote
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