Kayla Block stood in front of the Geneva Committee of the Whole recently and told of her fears regarding aggressive coyotes in the Fisher Farms and Westhaven subdivisions.
“My neighbor on two occasions this spring has been approached by coyotes while walking his dog,” Block said. “The first time, they were aggressively trying to get his dog while he held it and yelled and kicked at them.”
Block said her dog was attacked by two coyotes in January. The dog survived, but she spent thousands of dollars on vet bills.
“I do not let my children ... walk the dog because of the coyotes,” Block said.
For years, the city’s stance – as recommended by wildlife experts – was for its citizens to coexist with coyotes. People are told not to feed them, to lock up their garbage, and not to let their dogs out alone, according to the city’s website.
And if approached by a coyote, instructions on the city’s website state, “Do not run away. Instead, yell, wave your arms, and/or throw an object at the animal.”
But Block and others told aldermen this approach does not work on coyotes that are no longer afraid of people. A neighbor, Brian Darnell, told aldermen of being stalked by two coyotes trying to get his dog, and Block urged them to do something more about the situation.
“It is time to revisit the topic,” Block said.
Second Ward Alderman Don Cummings said there seems to be a difference between rural and urban coyotes in terms of how many more urban coyotes are aggressive and unafraid of people.
“These ought to be almost two different animals, the rural coyote and urban coyotes,” Cummings said. “We really need to set aside the rural coyotes, which don’t attack people as often, and look at the urban coyotes. ... They will attack people and are not afraid of people.”
Aldermen instructed city staff members to research the topic and return to a future Committee of the Whole meeting for consideration.
Urban areas are increasingly having reports of larger predators, such as a wandering black bear seen in areas including Rockford and Mount Morris. Jack Althoff of Geneva reported seeing a gray wolf July 1 at Fabyan Parkway and Route 31.
“It was not a coyote or a large German shepherd,” Althoff said. “It was too big, and the way it ran was nothing like a dog. I’ve seen them four or five times before in Wisconsin and a couple of times in Canada. The size and height is usually what tips them. It was very wide and tall.”
While there have been no other reports of aggressive coyotes locally – such as in Sugar Grove, North Aurora or St. Charles – other urban and suburban communities have dealt with them, said wildlife specialist professor Robert Timm, recently retired from the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“We did see a remarkable change in behavior within coyote communities,” Timm said. “But once the problem animals were removed by trapping, in many cases, the remaining coyotes were less aggressive and more wary.”
Timm said researchers do not know what causes the shift in coyote behavior – as coyotes normally are elusive and afraid of people.
“The process of habituation to people could be associating them with food or safety,” Timm said. “People might be intentionally or unintentionally feeding them.”
As for coyotes attacking pets, Timm said they likely are attacking small- and medium-sized dogs for food, but some attacks could be territorial.
“If people are walking dogs near coyotes that have dens, the attack is sometimes territorial. They don’t want the dog near their pups,” Timm said. “Most domestic dogs cannot defend themselves against a coyote. Even Rottweilers and German shepherds have been attacked and injured and other breeds we think of as quite able to defend themselves.”
Timm said small children are particularly at risk from aggressive coyotes. He said there have been two confirmed deaths by coyotes, a 19-year-old woman in 2009 in one of the national parks in Nova Scotia by a pack of coyotes and a 3-year-old in Glendale, California, in 1981.
Timm said coyotes are opportunists and adapt their diet and behavior to whatever exists in their environment.
“The increased aggression problem seems to have been reported in suburban areas throughout the country,” Timm said. “We don’t have good behavioral studies to understand that social dynamic.”
But what can be done about aggressive coyotes? Officials said police do not respond to coyote complaints and neither does Kane County Animal Control – unless the complaints involve actual attacks or rabies – because they are not trained for that.
Timm agreed with a solution proposed to Geneva officials by coyote trapper Rob Erickson of DeKalb – and that is to remove the problem of dominant coyotes and euthanize them.
“The only appropriate solution for dealing with an aggressive coyote is to remove it, for the safety of pets and people, especially children,” Timm said. “Removal is almost always going to be lethal because you can’t transplant it somewhere else. We don’t know any method of reversing their behavior when coyotes are fearless of humans.”
But Lynsey White Dasher, director of Humane Wildlife Conflict Resolution for the Humane Society of the U.S., disagrees. She said the organization performs training sessions so people can do “hazing” effectively without resorting to trapping and euthanizing problem coyotes. Hazing means to yell or make noise by banging on pots and pans.
“To say the only way to deal with problem coyotes is to kill them is not what we have experienced,” Dasher said of Erickson and Timm’s recommendations. “We have definitely found problem coyotes – that have attacked pets and stalked people – will stop their behavior through hazing. And they also teach [it] to their pups and the rest of the family group. We have found great success doing that.”
Dasher said the coyote behavior described in Geneva is most likely the result of people feeding the coyotes, and coyotes’ natural tendency to stalking behavior during mating season in January and February, and their protective behavior of pups in May and June.
Dasher disputed Timm and Erickson’s assertions that removing dominant coyotes causes the rest of the coyotes to back off from human contact. She said they have had to come into communities six months after alpha coyotes have been euthanized to train people on correct methods of hazing because the problems with coyotes persisted.
Dasher said Geneva city officials have reached out to her regarding the coyote situation.
“The other problem with lethally removing coyotes this time of year is that orphaned pups will be left behind,” Dasher said. “Without parents to teach them not only how to hunt mice, rats, and other small mammals ... but also how to navigate urban landscapes while avoiding people, these pups are more likely to grow up as nuisance coyotes.”
Erickson said he spoke to the Geneva officials at the committee of the whole meeting on behalf of the residents who were troubled by the aggressive coyotes. He said he could not disagree more with Dasher’s assertions.
“The coyote can’t tell the difference between a rabbit squealing and a toddler crying,” Erickson said. “It’s all groceries to them.”
Erickson said he uses cameras and resident reports of coyote sightings to determine which are the alpha or dominant coyotes. Once these are removed, the less dominant animals will back off from contact with people, he said.
“I’ve taken coyotes out where they have not seen one in five years,” Erickson said, disputing Dasher’s assertions that this method does not work. Erickson said not all dominant coyotes have to be euthanized, as some can be relocated in rural areas – but most often it does not work.
Erickson said he euthanizes the coyotes himself, on the spot, if they’re caught in an unincorporated area. If not, he said he takes them back to his farm and puts them down as painlessly as possible, either with a shot, carbon dioxide or a lethal injection.
Erickson said he is working to create an online database of coyote sightings, which should be ready later this month.
• Humane Society of the U.S. – www.humanesociety.org.
• University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources – http://ucanr.edu.
• Illinois Department of Natural Resources – www.dnr.state.il.us.
• Kane County Animal Control – www.co.kane.il.us/AnimalControl.