INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Residents got a lesson Nov. 12 on how to cope with coyotes.
A representative of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission discussed the animals at a meeting at Indian Rocks Beach City Hall that attracted nearly 100 residents who clearly wanted to see the last of the coyotes.
Earlier this summer residents began complaining that the predators were seen in their neighborhoods. Several indicated that their pet cats were missing or killed and they blamed the coyotes. In response to that, the city organized the special meeting.
Rhonda Douthett, an FWC biologist, told the group that to understand coyotes is to understand why they are here in the first place.
She said the coyote is considered a mid-sized predator which was not native to this part of the country. In fact, the prevalent predator was the wolf, much bigger than the coyote. Wolves, she said, can weigh up to 100 pounds while coyotes seldom get heavier than 30 pounds.
In the 1960s wolves were nearly eradicated in America. The wolves moved on and that allowed the smaller, opportunistic coyotes to move in.
“By 1999 coyotes were reported in all the Florida counties,” said Douthett.
Coyotes reproduce at a steady rate. The average litter is 6 pups.
“They will eat anything,” she said. “Thirty one percent of a coyote’s diet is meat, 30 percent is vegetation.”
She said autopsies on dead coyotes have revealed a large number of rodents, rats and mice in their stomach as well as hundreds of cockroaches.
In fact, the food sources in an urban environment are endless. So much so that in the city a coyote group will only need a territory of three square miles. In the wild, the territory expands to 15 square miles.
Douthett told the crowd that coyotes don’t really travel in packs, they travel in family groups. So a half dozen coyotes together will likely be the mother and father and four younger ones. Only the alpha male and female breed.
“There are some myths regarding coyotes,” said Douthett. “There is talk about coy-wolves or coy-dogs. It just doesn’t happen and in the case with dogs, their cycles don’t match, so it would be impossible for a coyote and a dog to breed.”
As for the danger from coyotes, she said they rarely get involved with humans.
“In the 45 years from 1970 to 2015 there have only been 8 or 9 attacks on humans, and there has been only one death, that of an unattended toddler in California,” Douthett said.
Dogs, by comparison, have caused 217 deaths in that time and over 1,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms.
Despite some angry demands from the crowd that the coyotes be eradicated, the FWC official said it would be impossible to wipe them out. Efforts in Los Angeles and Texas failed despite millions of dollars spent in trying to get rid of them. It is because of a peculiar reproductive quirk of the coyote.
“When the coyote feels threatened and its numbers are dwindling, then their reproductive norms change,” said Douthett. “Instead of producing 6 pups a litter, the female will produce up to 12 pups each time. Also, the juveniles will begin breeding as well, something they don’t normally do.”
With that in mind the officials said it is best to take steps to keep the coyotes away from personal property. They will only go where there is food.
Residents are advised to keep garbage secure in a container, not just plastic bags. Never feed the coyotes and make sure all pet food is inside. Keep cats and smaller dogs inside and always supervise dogs when they are outside.
Anyone caught feeding a coyote could be fined $148.
Pinellas County Animal Services Director Doug Brightwell told the crowd that he has known of coyotes in IRB and the area for more than six years. He also said the county does not have the resources to attempt a catch-and-neuter program.
Trappers are available at a cost of up to $300 for each animal. The trapper would have to euthanize the animal because it is illegal to relocate them.
Douthett said the best way to get a coyote off your property is to make a lot of noise and shoo it away. Coyotes are shy and won’t try to fight anything bigger than itself.
More information about coyotes can be obtained from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, MyFWC.com.