Coyote encounters causing a clamor
July 18, 2008 · Updated 5:03 PM
t Residents are reminded to leash their dogs while in the park.
The Metropolitan Park and Recreation District has posted signs warning walkers to be on the lookout for coyotes at Gazzam Lake Park, after several close encounters were reported this month.
The reports have come from walkers with dogs. One south-end resident said she was walking her two dogs near the lake when she heard her Australian shepherd yelp, and turned to see a coyote standing about 20 feet behind her on the trail.
She said her dog barked at the coyote, but it trailed her and her dogs most of the way back to the parking lot.
The same resident said another park visitor had told her that her small dog had been attacked by a coyote, while walking near Gazzam Lake.
After conferring with state Fish and Wildlife Officials, park district staff said the encounters may have been with the same coyote, and that it is likely an inexperienced juvenile.
Park district staff say the risk to humans is extremely low. There are only a handful of accounts on record of coyotes biting humans in Washington, while there are hundreds of dog attacks on humans in the state each year.
Leashes are required for dogs at Gazzam Lake, and Park District Services Director Arlan Elms said Gazzam visitors should remember that they are walking through a wildlife preserve, and animal encounters are to be expected.
“There’s a ton of wildlife there,” he said, “and people need to be prepared and realize that they could be startled by a coyote or owls or even deer.”
Mike Pratt, wildlife specialist at West Sound Wildlife Shelter, also advised that dogs be leashed in the park, and that walkers keep an eye on their pets.
He said coyotes usually only attack dogs if they are chased or threatened.
“With any wild animal, if your dog goes up to it, its going to act defensively,” Pratt said.
If a coyote approaches, people should make noise or throw things to scare the animal away, he said.
Coyotes feed mostly on fruits, plants, small rodents and rabbits. They help keep mammal populations, including deer, in check.
Some of the coyote’s natural food sources may have been impacted by this year’s unusually cold spring, Pratt said, but should be returning with the warmer weather.
Coyote sightings should be considered a good sign for Gazzam, Pratt said.
“The exciting thing is that the park is showing that it is a healthy park,” Pratt said.
Gazzam Lake Park is also home to a barred owl that has reportedly dive-bombed several walkers over the last year.
The park district is asking for further coyote and owl encounters to be reported at 842-2306.