Coyotes – are they a problem?

John Willoughby
ECB Publishing, Inc.

Coyotes, once a strictly western species, have migrated eastward. The expansion of coyotes to northwestern Florida began in the 1970s and, today, they are considered to be a naturalized species in all 67 counties within the state. With this wide expansion of the species throughout the Sunshine State, there have been multiple reports of attacks on humans and livestock. Furthermore, it is officially coyote season. With this mating season in full swing until March, could they become a problem and, if so, what can be done to deter them from becoming a nuisance?
Coyotes can be difficult to distinguish between dogs and wolves due to their similarities, however, coyotes can be identified by their thick, bushy tail; long, pointy nose and pointy ears; and their salt-and-pepper-like gray hair, with hints of tan or brown throughout their fur.
Beth Letchworth, the director of the Jefferson County Animal Control, confirms that the county has experience with coyotes.
“Everybody has issues,” said Letchworth. “I know Jefferson County has coyotes.”
According to Letchworth, there is not one particular part of Jefferson County that actively experiences a heightened coyote presence over other parts of the county; rather, the county is fairly evenly populated by coyotes.
Jefferson County's Animal Control also states that the City of Monticello also, from time to time, experiences coyotes within city limits.
Though the presence of people and activity make the city a less appealing terrain for the wild canines.
Three guests at a resort in Central Florida had a too-close experience with a coyote towards the end of January. One resort guest was unharmed, however, two were injured. Adding to the unfortunate event, the coyote was rabid. Reports stated that the coyote, which was about the size of a large domestic dog, latched on to the back of a victim's leg and would not let go.
Most times, coyotes are only drawn in by something that attracts them. Livestock is an example of food for the predators that often hunt alone. Additionally, coyotes hunt for plants, fruits, insects, rats, mice, rabbits, birds, deer, trash, pet food and any type of carrion, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Often times, if a coyote is around, it's because of the presence of a meal attracting the animal.
So, if the presence of a coyote is near or approaches you or your child, what should you do? The FWC has published tips on what to do in those instances. Coyotes are small animals and rarely pose a threat to people, especially adults. If approached, use a noisemaker or shout at the coyote and wave your arms. A solid walking stick or a golf club is a great deterrent at close range.
A "coyote shaker" or an air horn can be an effective noisemaker. A coyote shaker can be made by placing a couple of washers, pebbles or pennies in an empty drink container.
If your child is outside and is approached by a coyote, an adult should yell loudly and then move toward the animal. This can startle the coyote, giving the adult time to grab the child as quickly as possible. Adults should then prepare to back away from the coyote, preparing to defend themselves, if necessary.
The FWC continues to recommend not to allow domestic dogs or cats to roam freely in the case of a possible coyote attack. Most attacks occur at night, in the evening or early morning. Coyotes could be concealed in wooded areas or areas with heavy vegetation, so you should be cautious when walking pets. The FWC suggests to keep animals on a short leash, less than six feet. A well maintained fence may assist in deterring coyotes out of yards. An electric fence is a good way to prevent coyote attacks and can be used for livestock attack prevention as well.
With mating season in full swing right now, coyotes can produce multiple pups in a short amount of time. From January to March each year, a coyote, as young as 10 months old, can breed between four to six pups after a 63-day gestation period. With this rate of production, it's important to know how to keep them away from harming yourself or others. Trapping and hunting methods are allowed year round as an effort of dealing with coyotes on private land in Florida.
Professional trappers can be hired to remove the animals.
If you plan on using steel traps, an FWC permit is required.
The FWC, according to myfwc.com, does not license nuisance wildlife trappers, but does maintain a list of trappers that have registered their contact information. The United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services also provide assistance with wildlife trapping. You may call (866) 487-3297.
If you've been the victim of a coyote attack or encounter, or have witnessed the action thereof, you can report the incident to the FWC by calling the North Central Region office in Lake City at (386) 758-0525. You may also call (888) 404-3922.