Are Coyotes Becoming More Aggressive?

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
June 7, 2005

For many people, hearing coyotes howl in the distance is a beautiful experience. But a face-to-face encounter with the predators can leave a different impression.

Scientists say these adaptable animals could be becoming more aggressive and less fearful of humans—to the detriment of both species.

Wildlife specialist Robert Timm, of the University of California's Hopland Research and Extension Center, has documented some 160 coyote attacks and dangerous incidents over the past 30 years in California alone.

"There is an increasing problem with coyotes losing their fear of humans and becoming aggressive," Timm said.

"We've seen any number of instances where they came into a fenced yard and killed a small dog or cat," he added. "And we've documented pets taken from a child's arms or off a leash when being walked."

Working with Rex Baker of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services staff, Timm has developed a coyote-attack computer database.

The researchers are using the tool to search for patterns of precursor behavior—actions that might signal when coyotes are starting to become aggressive toward humans.

The scientists are also searching for possible solutions to what they see as a growing dilemma. In many U.S. states booming human populations and development have led to more people moving into and living in traditional coyote country.

Wolf Relative

Coyotes are smaller, more solitary relatives of wolves. Coyotes once lived exclusively in the U.S. western Plains states. Today the adaptable animals populate every U.S. state except Hawaii and range from Alaska to Central America.

The problem of human-coyote encounters does not lie with those animals that live in their traditional wilderness habitats. Rather the problem rests with those wily animals that have adapted to life in suburban and even urban environments.

Suburban patchworks of cover, such as small wooded areas and brush, combine with open areas to provide coyotes with good hunting grounds. And in some major metropolitan areas, like suburban Los Angeles, coyotes have become a problem.

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