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Officials celebrate surge in wild predators while fear among residents festers: ‘People are not accustomed to seeing [them]’

“The best thing we can do is to leave them alone.”

"The best thing we can do is to leave them alone."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

A surge in sightings of coyotes — also called barking dogs — in Florida has left officials celebrating, but many residents are concerned and think the rise is anything but the cat’s meow. 

The Guardian recently reported the news, stating that local authorities noted central Florida has seen the most significant spike with a 66% rise. The sightings are partially attributed to the development of previously wooded habitats, which is driving the coyotes into neighborhoods. 

While the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says it is impossible to know how many of the animals are living in the state, it has recorded that public reports of sightings have doubled over the past four years.

“What we’ve seen in communities where coyotes were once extirpated through trapping and poisoning is they’ve recolonized those areas; coyotes have started to come back to their native homeland,” Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote, a California-based group advocating for better education and peaceful coexistence, told The Guardian.

Regarding residents who worry the coyotes will prey on their pets and small children, Fox said they tend to avoid humans, as they are more scared of us than we are — or should be — of them.

She said issues arise when the animals become habituated to people and that the best way to avoid this is to ensure your yard is free of items such as pet food, open compost piles, and dirty grills. 

Similar situations of habituation and human involvement have led to the risk of euthanization of animals, including bears and bison, which should be avoided at all costs. 

Residents’ concerns aside, in an area that has experienced the loss of manatees and radical changes in vital sea turtle populations, surges such as the one happening with coyotes give Florida conservationists reason to cheer, not fear. 

“The coyote is the new kid on the block,” Fox said. “And when they move into an area or recolonize one where they were once extirpated, people are not accustomed to seeing a wild predator. Seeing a coyote is their first experience of coming face to face with a wild carnivore. That can be, at a very visceral level, a scary experience. But your chance of being fatally wounded by a coyote is far less than being fatally wounded by a drive-by shooter, or an errant golf ball.”

To assuage residents’ concerns, the FWC has a comprehensive section about coyotes on its website that provides articles and advice about living with coyotes, what to do if you encounter one, and a historical perspective of the species. 

“The best thing we can do is to leave them alone,” Fox said. “Recognize we share the landscape with them, and implement behavioral modification on our part to reduce any kind of negative encounters.”

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