Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My…but Coyotes?
By Joy Taylor
Wildlife is abundant in Pinellas County, and we have been most fortunate to share our everyday lives with these creatures for decades, but recently it appears the Coyotes have brought out the beast in the resident 2-legged creatures.
The Belleair Golf Course has become a haven for the coyote along with a vast array of wildlife. The only issue is the seemingly well-educated people albeit lacking common sense, as they are now the ones roaming the golf course chasing the coyotes!
A couple was recently spotted in a golf cart early one evening, the man sporting a five foot telescopic camera lens, and the woman defending her right to chase the coyotes across the entire course, and why you ask…the woman said because they were members. I asked if they were members of the coyote club. My humor was lost on this woman. When I mentioned some of the dangers, including the recent loss of many neighborhood cats and small dogs, she responded with defiant arrogance. "Not my cat! She goes out every night and she is fine". She then told me to mind my own business. Check out the photo below of the coyote and the cat, and you decide if you prefer your cat to continue being your pet or the next meal for the coyotes.
Listen up people…in case this little known fact has escaped you…cats, as well as dogs, are domesticated, not wild animals like the coyotes. Keep your pets indoors, especially with the heat index climbing over 100 degrees!
Chasing these skittish animals around a golf course to get a photo is ridiculous. They look like thin dogs, nothing more, nothing less. They are not lions or tigers or bears, so photographing these creatures really is absurd. I am including a few pictures, which should suffice or check your internet or the local zoo. Tres facile!
Given the growing number of people participating in chasing coyotes (by the way, no Gold Medal is offered in this sport), I decided to contact Ed Shaughnessy, the General Manager of the Belleair Country Club for the past 14 years. Ed is a man who is as passionate about the incredible array of flora, fauna, and mammals on the 288-acre, 36-hole golf course (which he refers to as a wildlife sanctuary) as he is about the club and its members. He mentioned that the pleasure of not only playing golf, but just being in the company of these incredible creatures affords everyone a chance to rid themselves of their everyday stress just from the sheer beauty of their surroundings, which includes fresh water streams, bridges and ponds. I agree 100%! Ed added that the coyote has been here as long as he can remember, and probably will be here long after we are all gone.
Please observe (from a distance), enjoy, and take in the wonders that surround you, but please stop chasing the coyotes! There have been some near car mishaps on the surroundings streets as people slam on their brakes when they see the coyotes emerging at dusk as they hunt for their dinner and pull out their cell phones to snap pictures. The coyotes do not bother anyone unless you allow your domesticated animals out or you feed them or attempt to approach them. Keep in mind, once again, these are wild animals.
Mr. Shaughnessy was also aware that there are those who would attempt to fish in the many ponds on the course. Fair warning to all you alleged sport fishermen, the police have been alerted and will give out stiff fines to anyone fishing in the ponds on the golf course.
To assist in educating the populace here in Pinellas County I interviewed Martin Main, a renowned professor at the University of Florida, in the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department.
Advanced studies and research in Biological Oceanography and Wildlife Science has provided a diverse background that supports his research and education efforts as a wildlife ecologist. His research interests are primarily in the areas of behavioral ecology and conservation biology. Current projects include the ecology of the coyote in Florida, fire ecology, and conservation strategies for private lands. His educational efforts are focused on an educational program designed to train persons as interpretive naturalists called the Florida Master Naturalist Program.
Forewarned is forearmed...
Q. Should adults be afraid for their safety from coyotes? MM: No. Coyotes are not large animals. They average 25-35 lbs, smaller than most dogs. Coyotes are also timid animals and will rarely approach a person.
Q. Have coyotes ever attacked people? MM: Coyote attacks (bites) on people are exceedingly rare, but some attacks have occurred, primarily on small children that were left unattended in areas where coyotes had been observed and demonstrated a lack of fear of people. Most of the coyotes that bit people (including those involved in the fatal attack) were regularly fed by people.
Q. What should people do to protect their cat and/or small dog? MM: Keep cats and dogs indoors. There are many ecological reasons why cats should not be allowed to roam freely out-of-doors, regardless of traditional attitudes (www.abcbirds.org/cats). Risk of being killed simply adds to the list of reasons for keeping cats indoors. Most coyote attacks on pets occur at night, and also in the evening and early morning hours. During these times especially, don't walk your dog in areas where vegetation presents ambush cover for a coyote, and keep your dog close if you use an extendable leash. If you see a coyote while walking your pet, lift your pet off the ground. Carry a stick or golf club if coyotes are known to be in the area. Be aggressive toward the coyote, shout, wave your arms, and put the stick to use if needed. Coyotes are small and will flee.
Coyotes will kill and eat small dogs and cats given the opportunity. To a coyote, your small pet is simply a potential meal. Common sense folks, keep your domesticated pets indoors. It's not Rocket Science.
Q. How can we tell if coyotes are losing fear or may present a risk to pets or children? MM: Attack incidents are typically preceded by a sequence of increasingly bold behaviors: Sightings of coyotes in neighborhoods at night-Nighttime coyote attacks on pets. Sightings of coyotes in morning and evening-Attacks on pets during daylight hours. Attacks on pets on leashes and chasing of joggers and bicyclists. Mid-day sightings of coyotes in and around children's play areas. Coyotes that display bold and aggressive behaviors may present a threat to pets and small children and should probably be removed by a professional capture specialist
Q. What if a coyote approaches a child? MM: Lift small children off the ground. Be aggressive toward the coyote. Report the incident to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Hiring a wildlife capture specialist to remove the problem coyote may be advisable.
Q. Can coyotes carry rabies? MM: Yes. All mammals can be infected by rabies and animals that do not show fear should not be approached because they are either sick or they are not afraid.
Q. What attracts coyotes to our neighborhoods? MM: Food. Coyotes will be attracted to garbage, pet food left outdoors, feral cat colonies, or may simply live in your neighborhood. They are highly adaptable, smart, and will eat a diverse diet. Never feed coyotes, seal garbage cans and eliminate other potential sources of food and coyotes will likely not be a problem.
Q. Can we remove all coyotes from an area, and what happens to coyotes that are caught? MM: You cannot remove all the coyotes from an area, at least not permanently. New coyotes will disperse into the vacancy. Coyotes that are captured in Florida are killed. By law, they cannot be released once they are captured.
Final thoughts-Florida is blessed with diverse wildlife. The coyote is a relatively new addition to Florida's fauna due to a range expansion that has encompassed all of North America, and the coyote is here to stay. Coyotes live in every part of the country, including all major urban areas. People have learned to live with coyotes everywhere, and we can learn to live with them in Florida too. The presence of a coyote, therefore, is probably not a concern. However, the presence of a coyote that has been fed by people or that has lost its fear of people may become a problem. In these cases, removal may be advised with the assistance from a wildlife capture specialist. A list of licensed Nuisance Wildlife Trappers (by county) is available on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website: http://myfwc.com/trappers/.
If you would like to share a coyote incident, and/or receive additional and detailed information regarding Coyotes in Florida, please send your request and comments to TheTayloredWord@yahoo.com.
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