Tom Higgins, who lives near the Crestview Country Club in east Wichita, was concerned in September when two coyotes came to his yard multiple times over several weeks. They didn’t appear fearful of his dogs or people.
His teenage daughter was afraid to get out of her car one night because the coyotes were so close to their house.
“I was worried because there are two of them, and they are more aggressive and more likely to take risks then just if they are single, by themselves,” Higgins said. “I was worried they might be rabid or carrying diseases.”
Local and state wildlife officials have received an increasing number of reports about coyotes in urban areas.
Coyotes have shown up at golf courses, slinking along rivers and creeks, in neighborhoods and in parks. Other cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles have long had coyote populations, and now Kansas cities have joined the group, wildlife officials say.
Unlike their shy country counterparts, these urban coyotes are bold. They hop fences, creep into backyards and snack on rabbits, squirrels, small rodents and even the occasional cat and small dog. They are generally not considered to be a threat to humans unless they are rabid.
Higgins would soon discover he was inadvertently feeding the coyotes with an apple tree growing in his backyard. The coyotes sought out the apples as treats.
North American coyotes weigh about 35 to 45 pounds – about the size of Australian shepherds or border dollies. They have long fur in the winter.
They are less sought out by Kansas trappers, in part, because their fur is less likely to make money. A good, processed fur from a Kansas coyote might bring $20 to $25, where in the 1970s through 1990s, they might have brought closer to $70, said Matt Peek, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism furbearer biologist. Coyote pelts in northern and western states will bring closer to $100.
The burgeoning coyote population brings them into towns, searching for food.
“They have become more accustomed to being around people,” Peek said. “They are intelligent. Their food supply is good, and their biggest danger is usually vehicles.”
The state does not keep an official count on coyote populations, Peek said.
Charlie Cope, wildlife biologist for the state Wildlife department, said coyotes have been seen regularly in Wichita’s parks, around streams, along major streets and in neighborhoods across the city.
Urban coyotes are a significant enough concern that Peek and Cope co-wrote a brochure called “Coyotes In The City.” The brochure tells people to be aware of coyotes, use caution around them and good sense for their pets and not to feed coyotes.
Coyotes are opportunists. They look for easy food and water and will travel in packs.
“You are not going to get rid of coyotes,” Peek said. “There is nothing to be alarmed about having them present. But if you have a small dog that’s unattended, you might fix a pen or a cage and put a top on it. If you have a cat that you let run loose, it runs a risk of getting caught by a coyote – as much so as getting hit by a car.”
Lt. Brian Sigman, of Wichita Police Department animal control, says that as the city increases in size, so does the coyote population.
They come into town looking for food, which is why folks may comment about seeing them more often,” Sigman wrote in an email to The Eagle. “Coyotes are very commonly seen at night and do a lot of their hunting at night.”
Cope, who keeps track of any wildlife complaints, says calls to his office about coyotes have increased. Last year, a dog in northeast Wichita was killed by a coyote. And in southeast Wichita, people have complained about coyotes being overly friendly.
Shelley Duncan was out running with her dog, a small Italian greyhound, when a coyote surprised them both near Tallgrass Country Club and carried Duncan's dog away in its jaws. (Video by Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle/July 1, 2016)
“Historically, we have had six to 12 calls on coyotes per year, but many of those were related to agricultural complaints,” Cope said. “Since 2014, there has been an increase in calls related to urban coyotes, and that trend will probably continue.”
In rural areas, nuisance coyotes are shot by farmers and hunters or trapped.
As the coyotes move into towns, they may carry mange, mites and rabies.
In cities, dealing with coyotes becomes dicier. The use of traps and discharge of guns is prohibited. Licensed nuisance wildlife control operators have to be hired to remove wildlife.
Cope said if people live in an area with other homeowners or businesses, they should talk with each other about ways to discourage coyotes from coming into the neighborhood. Put pet and bird feed that’s outside away, make sure your yards are secure and there aren’t places coyotes can crawl under or seek shelter.
The problem is some people leave food and water out to encourage wildlife, while their neighbors may dislike wildlife coming that close.
“Homeowner associations have ways to stop people from feeding animals,” Cope said. “And just because you see wildlife — like a coyote, doesn’t justify the removal of their population. If they are destroying property, that meets the threshold of removal.”
Relocation usually isn’t an option, Cope said, because the coyotes can range 35 to 50 miles.
College wildlife resource instructor Luke Laha talks why he traps coyotes, raccoons and skunks. (Michael Pearce/The Wichita Eagle)
How to avoid conflict with urban coyotes
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism offers these tips to people to make sure their property is less likely to have problems with coyotes:
▪ Do not feed coyotes. Coyotes that bite people have learned to associate people with food. Intentional feeding can lead to problems. Coyotes look for pet food that is left out, fallen fruit or garden produce that isn’t picked up or even trash can lids that aren’t secured.
▪ Don’t leave water sources out.
▪ Don’t leave pets outside unattended. Even in fenced yards, small cats or dogs may be at risk of attack. Coyotes are more likely to be active at dawn, dusk and nighttime. Keep pets on a leash when walking.
▪ If you see a coyote, scare it away. Shout, throw rocks or sticks and act aggressive toward it by waving your arms.