The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project

 

 

     
  The Coyote-Human Relationship  

 

 RELATIONSHIPS WITH PEOPLE

  • Human-Coyote Conflicts

  • Are All Coyotes Threats to People?

  • What Creates Nuisance Coyotes?

  • Managing Nuisance Coyotes

 

HUMAN-COYOTE CONFLICTS

For many reasons, the popular media focuses on conflicts between coyotes and people within cities.  Even so, most incidents are difficult for the public to interpret and place into the proper perspective.  Most people have little idea as to what the appropriate response is to coyote incidents, and inappropriate responses can aggravate the situation.

Coyote conflicts can range from relatively benign sightings of the occasional animal without additional incidents, to pet killings, to the most extreme cases of coyotes attacking people.

 

Alpha male from Big Hill pack in 2000, with a tractor-trailer passing by in the background.

Coyotes differ from most other wildlife species in cities in that they can be considered a nuisance without any evidence of damage, but simply by being seen.  Perhaps because of their role as a large predator, people are sensitive to the real or perceived threat to pets or children. Indeed, most complaints regarding coyotes are that they occur near people, regardless of whether any damage has occurred.  More extreme are the cases where coyotes attack and, sometimes, kill pets.

 

Conflicts with Pets: 

As coyotes move into metropolitan areas, there is undoubtedly an increase in the loss of free ranging domestic cats.

Coyotes sometimes take cats as food, or simply to remove a possible competing predator from their territory (much like they do with foxes).

Less commonly, they may attack small dogs or, even less frequently, medium-to-large dogs.

Usually dogs are attacked when they are not accompanied by people, but in some rare cases, small dogs have been taken in the presence of an owner.

Small dogs may be taken at any time of year, but attacks on larger dogs are usually associated with the mating or breeding season, when coyotes are most territorial. In some cases, small dogs have been taken while the dog was on a lead, or coyotes have jumped fences to attack a dog in a yard.  Most metropolitan areas in the Midwest and eastern United States have reported an apparent increase in the number of attacks on pets.

 

Attacks on Humans: 

Most extreme, and relatively rare, are cases where coyotes attack people. The majority of cases involve younger children.  Most attacks have occurred in the Southwest, especially southern California, where coyotes have lived in suburbs for decades.

Prior to 2009, the only fatal case of a coyote attack in recent history occurred in 1981 in a Los Angeles suburb. However, in October 2009 a 19-year old woman was fatally attacked by eastern coyotes while hiking alone in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia.  See Taylor Mitchell for more information about this attack.

In Midwestern metropolitan areas where coyotes are a relatively recent phenomenon, coyote attacks on people are still isolated and rare.  See Coyote Attacks for more information.

 

ARE ALL COYOTES A THREAT TO PEOPLE?

We were surprised to find so many coyotes living near people in Cook County, and yet relatively few conflicts have been reported.

We assumed that with an average of 350 coyotes removed each year from the area as nuisances, most urban coyotes would create problems. In contrast, only five of 175 radio-collared coyotes have been removed as nuisances (as defined by the local community).  Apparently, few coyotes have become nuisances in Cook County, and it is likely that this is true of other metropolitan areas. It remains to be seen if conflicts will remain relatively rare or if they become more common as coyotes adjust to living with humans.

For perspective, it is worth considering that no documented case of a coyote biting a human has been reported for Cook County.  Contrast that result with domestic dogs, in which Cook County often records 2,000 to 3,000 dog bites each year (including some fatalities).  In 2005, there were no recorded bites on people by coyotes in Cook County, but 3,043 bites were recorded for domestic dogs (data from Cook County Animal and Rabies Control).

 

WHAT CREATES NUISANCE COYOTES?

Those coyotes that became nuisances during our study typically became habituated through feeding by people. In other words, people were feeding wildlife and either intentionally, or unintentionally, fed coyotes.  Only 4% of coyotes that we have studied in Cook County have developed into nuisances and there have been no attacks on people.

Once coyotes associate human buildings or yards with food, they increase daytime activities and thus are seen more easily by people. In those areas in southern California where attacks have been more common, researchers have reported a higher frequency of human-related food in the diet of nuisance coyotes. This was indicative of feeding by people, or coyotes seeking food in garbage. In either case, it is becoming apparent that feeding of coyotes should be discouraged.  A common pattern for many human attacks has been feeding prior to the incident — in many cases intentional feeding.  See the case of the Ruth Macintyre Coyote (Coyote #434) for an example of how intentional feeding of wildlife led to the creation of a nuisance coyote.

 

Our experience has been that most nuisance calls are in response to coyotes being seen or heard by residents.

 

Coyotes are unique among urban wildlife in that they are often considered a nuisance before any damage occurs; simply their presence alone is considered a nuisance. People are uncomfortable with the idea that a relatively large predator is living near them, regardless of any signs of conflict.

 

MANAGING NUISANCE COYOTES

The graph below reflects the number of coyotes captured and removed each year by professional nuisance control operators in the Chicago region.

The state of Illinois requires those professionals to report summaries of animals they remove during the year.  The numbers you see come from those reports for the section of northeastern Illinois that is primarily composed of the Chicago metropolitan area.

One can see the dramatic increase in the number of coyotes removed each year during the 1990’s. Prior to the 1990’s, the number of coyotes detected and removed was quite small, as the species was relatively rare in the Chicago area.

I report these numbers because it is rare to have a systematic reporting system that was in place during the expansion of coyotes throughout a metropolitan area, and it is a nice illustration of the relative level of conflict between people and coyotes that accompanies that expansion. However, while it presents a fascinating story, I do not take the numbers literally with regard to the number of nuisance coyotes in the area because the numbers are not verified and identifying ‘nuisance’ coyotes is difficult.  There was obviously a tremendous increase in the number of coyotes removed each year, but the actual numbers of coyotes becoming nuisances are unknown.

Problems with the numbers include:

1.      These totals do not discriminate between coyotes that were actually causing the conflict and others removed during the attempts to catch the bad guys.  Because of the difficulties with identifying true ‘nuisance’ coyotes, control operators usually remove multiple coyotes to insure the troublesome coyote is removed.

2.      These numbers also include general removal programs where coyotes are removed as a general protocol, rather than a response to problem animals.  This would include airports and cities with a zero tolerance toward the presence of coyotes.

3.      The numbers reported by control operators are self-reported, and may be subject to inaccuracies. Although most operators keep careful records, some do not.


 

 
 

 

The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project


The Ohio State University