Coyotes have bad rep, but serve ecosystem well | Island Wildlife | June 17

Over the years, when I’ve told people that West Sound Wildlife Shelter cares for injured and orphaned coyotes, the response has ranged from cheering to frowns. I’m confident the frowns would melt away if those people were able to see what I just saw – four pairs of skittish brown eyes staring up at me.

These four coyote pups, who are unrelated, are orphaned. Most likely, their mothers were killed or driven off.

One of them suffered serious injuries, possibly from a large dog that ripped the coyote pup from its den but was interrupted before it killed the pup.

When I walk over and peer into their enclosure, the pups scurry away and hide. These pups are not vicious beasts. Their innocence and wonder at the world shines through in those special moments when they don’t know I’m watching them. Or when they’re wrestling with each other, lapping up their formula, or exploring their enclosure. OK, they’re awfully cute as well; I’ll admit it.

Of course, these pups will grow up to be adult coyotes. And the fact is that coyotes kill cats, small dogs and chickens to supplement their diet, which includes lots of rodents, berries, and fruits. They don’t kill them out of spite; they kill them for food, both for themselves and to feed their pups.

But coyotes don’t kill as many pets and chickens as most people think.

Studies have found that domesticated animals are only a small portion of urban coyotes’ diets. And bald eagles and raccoons kill a surprising number of pets.

Unfortunately, one of my cats and my small flock of chickens were probably killed by coyotes. Right after my chickens disappeared, I heard a pack of coyotes in the woods nearby howling and yipping – “Yippee, chicken for dinner tonight!”  I felt horrible at the loss of my chickens (yes, all of my chickens had names), but I don’t blame the coyotes. I blame my lazy dogs who were in on the couch instead of outside protecting the chickens.

I also console myself with the knowledge that coyotes are an important part of our ecosystem. Are you happy that you don’t have rats living in your shed or moles eating your flower bulbs and digging up your lawn? You can thank coyotes for that.

Coyotes also protect your roses and gardens by acting as the only predator of deer in urban areas. And if you’re a golfer, you can thank coyotes for keeping down the population of Canada geese.

Most people don’t know it, but coyotes have spread across the entire United States, including every large U.S. city.  Chicago has tracked hundreds of coyotes living in the city for the last 14 years, raising young each year on the rodent population.

A few years ago, a coyote was caught on video in an elevator in a Seattle hotel. And a couple years ago, a photo was taken of a coyote sitting in a beverage cooler in a store.

These coyotes were actually scared and desperate to get out of these situations. The reason why most people don’t realize coyotes live all around us is because coyotes are deeply afraid of us and usually avoid us at all costs.

As long as we follow simple rules, we can easily and comfortably live in harmony with coyotes. Don’t ever feed a coyote.  Don’t leave dog food outside. Keep your trash secure. Keep your cats inside.

Although there have been scores of incidents in the United States where coyotes have injured a human, the vast majority of those incidents involved coyotes that were being fed by humans or had in some way been conditioned to not fear humans.

It is a myth that coyotes kill small children. In Washington State, in the last few decades at least, there has been only one documented coyote “attack.” Two children were nipped by two coyotes in Bellevue. The coyotes were then killed.

It turns out the coyotes had probably lost their fear of humans because people had been feeding them or had raised them as pets (which is illegal).

This brings me back to the four pups we’re caring for here at West Sound Wildlife. We wear masks when we take food into their enclosure, and we will take actions to make sure they hate humans before we release them back where they came from (none  are from Bainbridge Island; we’ve never released a coyote here).

It’s tough love. But we owe it to these innocent babies to give them the best chance of survival possible. And we want to make sure that we only hear cheering when we tell people we care for coyotes.

Kol Medina is executive director of West Sound Wildlife Shelter on Bainbridge Island.

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