Coyote sightings are slightly up on the Monterey Peninsula, prompting officials to encourage people to keep pets indoors at night, and to take defensive measures to discourage both the predators and their prey from visiting neighborhoods.
Although the presence of coyotes on the peninsula is nothing new, local wildlife experts say there may be a few more of the smart and adaptable animals fanning out through the area in search of food and water, especially after years of prolonged drought and the 2016 Sobranes Fire.
The city of Carmel logged 17 sightings so far this year, slightly more than last year, occurring both before and after the fire, according to Carmel’s animal control officer, Cindi Mitchell. City Administrator Chip Rerig is encouraging residents there to report any coyote encounters to Mitchell, so the city can continue to monitor numbers.
“It’s possible sightings in Carmel could be animals displaced from the fire,” says Jeff Cann, a Monterey-based wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “They use the Carmel River corridor as a highway, as most of the wildlife does.”
Mitchell says the Carmel sightings are mostly around the Mission Trail Nature Preserve in the southeastern portion of the city, and Pescadero Canyon near 2nd Avenue at the northern end, bordering the Pebble Beach area.
“All of our sightings have been healthy interactions, which is good,” Mitchell says; “healthy” means the coyotes show an appropriate fear of humans.
Another reason people may be spying more coyotes in fall is because young coyotes are leaving their families in search of new territories and it “could be as simple as childish curiosity,” says Todd Weston, an education specialist at the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum.
“Learning how to navigate the modern patchwork of open spaces and parks left behind after human development takes trial and error,” he says. “Some of these trials and errors may take the form of young coyotes exploring around our homes looking for their own need for food, water, and shelter.”
The best way to discourage coyotes from visiting homes, experts say, is to eliminate all food and water sources that will attract them and the prey they like to eat, like rats and raccoons.
“Sometimes people don’t know that what they’re doing is encouraging coyotes to come around more,” says Mitchell, Carmel's animal control officer. Leaving food outdoors for pets, not securing trash cans, and even having birdseed in bird feeders or water in ponds and birdbaths are examples of attractants.
“Coyotes are smart, just like the other wildlife, and they will poke around yards and get into conflict with pets over their food,” says Cann.
And while some people may think they are helping wildlife by leaving out food, like in the instance of feeding feral cats, in the end it may do more harm than good.
“Again, that’s that whole food chain thing,” Cann says. “If you’re feeding stray cats, the coyotes will figure that out; they may come for the cat food—or the cat.”
Cann and Mitchell say it is possible for people and coyotes to coexist peacefully, and it’s even beneficial to have predators like coyotes around to keep down the populations of rodents and other animals that can cause property damage or otherwise be annoying.
While coyotes are generally fearful of humans, if people feel threatened they can make lots of noise and even throw rocks, experts recommend. Carrying a walking stick to wave defensively is also a good idea.
Cann recommends people visit his department’s Keep Me Wild web page, at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Keep-Me-Wild, for more information.