Coyote sightings on the rise locally

Animals not acting aggressively, but officials recommend caution
Jan. 29, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

Farmers and those traversing local trails have something other than ice to look out for this winter — coyotes.

According to Ranger Steve Godfrey of San-Lee Park, a pack of about six coyotes recently moved into the far reaches of the park. And Susan Condlin, director of Lee County's N.C. Cooperative Extension branch, said her office has heard of several goat farmers who have had issues with the wild animals.

"I've been here 27 years, and that's the first time I've ever seen such a big group," Godfrey said of the six or seven coyotes that he and his two dogs, Zoe and Midnight, have now run into four times in the last few months. "... With more progress and growth, they're just running out of places to go."

Godfrey said he suspects this group's home might have been displaced by construction on the Highway 421 Bypass. He explained that coyotes tend to roam individually or in pairs when it's warm but form packs once the temperature drops, which is why they've only been spotted recently.

He said he saw the San-Lee pack as recently as this past Saturday and that a group of bike riders reported seeing them as well. Neither he nor the bikers had any trouble, Godfrey said, noting that the animals seem more curious than aggressive. Coyotes in this region only grow to about 35 pounds, and he said these ones have backed down several times at the sight of his larger dogs even though the coyotes had a significant advantage in numbers — leading him to believe they're not looking for a fight.

It's also easy to scare them off with an air horn, he said, suggesting that anyone planning to venture far into the park on foot carry a horn or whistle just in case.

"Bikers are pretty tough guys and gals, and they can move pretty fast, but if there's a lady walking a poodle or another small dog, I'd be worried about her if she's not carrying an air horn," Godfrey said.

The ranger doesn't have any plans yet to call animal control on the coyotes, since they scare off easily and seem content to stay deep in the park. However, he said that could change if they come closer to the main area or become aggressive

Local farmers also seem to be having a few more interactions with coyotes, Condlin said, adding that some have taken to putting donkeys in with other livestock since coyotes seem to be afraid of donkeys. She said she's not sure if it's the donkeys' size, their strong kicks or something else that causes the fear, but it's apparently a popular solution.

N.C. law allows landowners without a hunting license to shoot coyotes in the act of causing damage. But according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, people can keep coyotes away through simple and non-lethal steps like building fences, not leaving food outside — including pet food, garbage or even fallen fruit at the base of a tree — or by throwing things, making loud noises or spraying the animals with a hose.

"Attacks on people, including children, are extremely rare," according to a flier distributed by the commission. "Normal coyote behavior is to be curious, but wary, when close to humans."

More information about coyotes and other local wildlife can be found at www.ncwildlife.org/learning.