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Dwight Cooley, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge manager, said the coyotes in the Decatur area, similar to those pictured, are as plentiful as ever, and a pack of them lives near the refuge headquarters off Alabama 67. The reason he gets only a few calls now could be that people have become used to them, he said, and they have learned to avoid leaving food and garbage out at night.
Photos.com
Dwight Cooley, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge manager, said the coyotes in the Decatur area, similar to those pictured, are as plentiful as ever, and a pack of them lives near the refuge headquarters off Alabama 67. The reason he gets only a few calls now could be that people have become used to them, he said, and they have learned to avoid leaving food and garbage out at night.

Harmony
in the wild?

Despite growing concerns across nation, local residents learning to live with coyotes

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com· 340-2395

Perhaps Decatur residents have become accustomed to the four-legged scavengers that once caused concern and even fear for those living on the outskirts of town.

Or maybe the coyotes that sneak in from Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and rural landscapes have found easier ways to fill their bellies than the house pets and vegetable gardens they occasionally dined on.

And it could be that local residents have outsmarted one of the most clever survivors in North America by covering their garbage cans and not leaving pet food on the back porch.

Whatever the reason, wildlife officials are not getting the number of calls and complaints they did as recently as the late ’90s. That’s odd considering other parts of the country report coyotes have become more of a nuisance by losing their fear of humans in urban settings. Chicago estimates it has as many as 2,000 in its metro area.

“I don’t remember a single call in the past three years,” said Dwight Cooley, Wheeler refuge manager.

His predecessor, Tuck Stone, however, had a different experience, regularly getting calls from residents who lived near the refuge and were seeing coyotes in their backyards. A neighborhood near Point Mallard had as many as five pet cats killed by coyotes in about a month in 1998.

Jan Sanders, whose father lost two of those cats to coyotes, said they were a problem for a while but she hasn’t seen or heard of coyote troubles in years.

When the refuge did get regular callers, some just wanted information to know if they were dangerous. Some, however, wanted action to eradicate them as a suburb of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., is doing after finding the animals are more aggressive in invading their backyards.

In Red Wing, a small town about 30 miles south of the Twin Cities, a resident found two snarling coyotes threatening his beagle puppy even while he stood only feet away from them. City officials voted to trap and kill the neighborhood’s coyote population of 10 to 20 animals.

“In rural areas, coyotes get shot at,” said Ed Boggess, deputy director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Urban areas become de facto wildlife refuges because there’s no hunting. The animals become less fearful of humans.”

Coyotes are game animals in Alabama and can be hunted with a license all year, but Decatur residents are prohibited from shooting firearms within city limits.

Ron Eakes, District 1 supervisor for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, said he’s not surprised by the lack of calls and complaints about coyotes.
Photos.com
Ron Eakes, District 1 supervisor for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, said he’s not surprised by the lack of calls and complaints about coyotes.
Cooley said the coyotes in the Decatur area are as plentiful as ever, and a pack of them lives near the refuge headquarters off Alabama 67. The reason he gets only a few calls now could be that people have become used to them, he said, and they have learned to avoid leaving food and garbage out at night. They also employ floodlights and motion detectors to scare them off.

Ron Eakes, District 1 supervisor for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, said he’s not surprised by the lack of calls and complaints about coyotes.

“I think people to a certain degree are realizing that coyotes are not this gargantuan menace that are going to come in and eat them and their kids and that kind of stuff,” he said. “(Coyotes) are becoming a little more habituated to people, but people are becoming a little more habituated to them.”

Mike Tucker of Wildlife Control Services of Bloomington, Ind., said this year he has received about 100 requests for coyote control and noted that some residents report the coyotes won’t flee even when they yell or throw things at them because they stopped fearing humans.

If coyotes are losing their fear of humans, Gary Meis, president of the Minnesota Trappers Association, said he thinks city folks have good reason to feel nervous.

“Can I believe an attack can happen? You bet I can,” he said. “By nature, coyotes are shy and secretive, but when these animals lose their fear of humans, all bets are off.”

Eakes said coyotes mostly eat rats and other rodents but will digest just about anything that is plentiful and easily available, such as grass. Because they’re so adaptive, they will remain a part of the urban landscape.

“People have been trying to kill them out West for years, but they’re still here,” he said. “They’re going to be like
cockroaches and mosquitoes. They’re going to be here when everything else is gone.”
Darlene Prois of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune contributed to this report.

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