Article by Rick Robinson
Do You Know What to do if You Encounter a Coyote?
Seeing a coyote in your backyard or local park is a startling occurrence. News stories about coyotes snatching children or attacking people have bred fear into most about these wild animals. Knowing the facts about coyotes, their behaviors and what you should do if you encounter one should help you respond knowledgeably and confidently when you encounter one.
Normal Coyote Behavior
Seeing a coyote is actually a rare occurrence, because these animals are typically nocturnal, only coming out in the daytime when they need to change habitats or move to better hunting grounds. If you do see a coyote making this change, chances are it will be very afraid of you, so you are not at risk.
Abnormal Coyote Behavior
That said, sometimes coyotes can become accustomed to humans, and this is when they pose a danger. The first way this happens is through a process known as habituation. When a coyote is fed often by humans, either on purpose or because the human leaves food accessible, it begins to associate people with food. This lessens the natural fear that the coyotes have for people, and the animal can start to act tame or even aggressive.
In this case, the best course of action is to use techniques to scare the coyote. Loud noises are one of the best. It doesn't take long for the coyote to remember that humans are threatening, and for the habituation behavior to dissipate.
The second way coyotes can act abnormally towards people is through actual attacks. While these do happen on occasion, they're very rare, and they aren't something you need to fear. Often the attacks that do occur happen because someone was feeding the offending coyote, and the coyote experienced habituation. Preventing habituation is an important way to prevent attacks.
People have also been attacked by coyotes when trying to rescue a pet. The best way to prevent this is to keep your pets confined, and monitor them when outdoors if you live in an area with a large coyote population.
Finally, coyote attacks can occur when the coyote is rabid. Rabid coyotes will become more aggressive and less fearful. Again, this is rare, but because of the risk, coyotes that attack people are removed from the wild population and tested for rabies to limit any public health risk.
How to Respond to a Coyote
So how should you respond if you see a coyote? First, remember that the coyote is probably more scared of you than you are of it. Making loud noises and appearing confident is often all that is required to scare the animal away. Clap your hands, wave your arms or shout at the coyote. You can even throw small items at it, not with the intent to hurt it, but to scare it. If you have a water hose nearby, spray it with water. Once the coyote has left, make sure there aren't food items accessible that will make it return, such as a bowl of dog food from an outdoor pet.
If a coyote approaches a pet or child, the adult should pick up the child or pet and begin hazing actions. If the hazing doesn't work, back away slowly, without turning your back on the coyote, and head to a safe indoor place.
Aggressive behavior from a coyote is rare, and needs to be reported. Call your local police or animal control office to get help or make a report.
Remember, coyotes pose very little risk for you and your family. Most of the time, they're simply trying to live their lives and find food. If you know how to respond, you can protect yourself and your family while still respecting the natural beauty, including coyotes, around you.
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