CSULB biologist requests public input for coyote interaction survey

Cal State Long Beach professor and researcher Ted Stankowich is requesting input from residents regarding their pets’ interaction or lack of interaction with coyotes. Stankowich is creating a knowledge base for coyote/pet encounters and will use it to draw conclusions regarding how people can avoid losing a beloved cat or dog to a hungry predator. The survey consists of brief multiple-choice questions for each pet entered. Data will be collected and analyzed by The Stankowich Lab, an evolutionary-behavior ecology lab located on the CSULB campus.

Interested pet owners can access the survey here.

Stankowich emphasized that he wanted responses from people whose pets have not had any interaction with coyotes as well as those who have. Such responses, he said, will add to the knowledge base of ways to prevent pets from being harmed or killed. The responses will address types of interaction, the pet’s habits, and the pet’s physical characteristics.

“The survey will help us understand how people’s pets interact with coyotes, how the pets’ shapes, sizes and colors influence the attacks,” Stankowich said. “For example, are some pets more susceptible to attack than others—breeds of dog, whether a cat is orange black or white? It’s also critical to get a large sample of pets that have never been attacked.”

Coyotes are adaptable and will make themselves at home anywhere. They have lived undetected in cities for a very long time—the term urban coyote has been coined to differentiate them from those living in an ever-decreasing wild. A National Wildlife Federation article estimated coyotes living in cities to be anywhere from one million to 10 million.

Reports of urban-coyote attacks on pets—and on humans, though less frequent—are increasing. This is especially true during March through September, which is the pupping season that sends both parents off hunting for food. The growing number of reports could be attributed to a greater number of attacks, but more likely, it’s because the public has become increasingly aware of them through social media, community meetings and technology. Long Beach Animal Care Services has been proactive during the past few years in informing the public about coyotes. The shelter’s website devotes three subsections to coexisting with urban coyotes: The first provides guidelines for keeping coyotes away from the door, hazing techniques, protection of pets and community cats, and informational links. One button on the page leads you to a second page with a form for reporting sightings or activity, and another accesses a continually updated map showing the locations, dates, times, types and severity of each encounter.

Thanks to coyotes’ adaptability and their perceptibly decreasing fear of humans, many animal scientists like Stankowich are fascinated by them and are studying their behavior. In spring 2017, the Center for Urban Resilience (CURes), which operates within Loyola Marymount University, began a three-year high-tech study of coyote behavior in conjunction with Long Beach Animal Care Services, city officials and The Cat Cove rescue. The study completed its second year in May.

CURes is addressing the location and number of coyotes; their diet, including small domestic pets; and interaction with pets, all within Long Beach. Wildlife cameras track the animals’ movement; the scientists plan to equip certain of them with GPS devices.

“[CURes has] a number of projects for the movement of these animals,” Stankowich said. “They’re looking at the pure ecology of coyotes and how they’re moving through the area; we’re interested more in the behavior toward pets specifically, how coyotes are seeing and assessing a small furry pet. I’m trained as a behaviorist—I want to know, from the coyote’s perspective, what are they seeing. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel but to look at alternative ways of reducing conflict.”

Woman in blue cap, blue T-shirt and gray pants looks into camera

Field researchers utilize wildlife cameras to record coyote behavior. Photo courtesy of Ted Stankowich.

 

Beige contraption that has a white screen and dials

Wildlife cameras are housed in security boxes to protect them from elements. Photo courtesy of Ted Stankowich.

Conflict is evident on social media and at informational meetings. Strident calls for relocation and extermination are met with equally emotional pleas to protect and understand the animals. Stankowich intimated that, like each of Wile E. Coyote’s Acme incidents, no matter how many coyotes are relocated or killed, they always bounce back.

“Over the past few decades, people have sprawled into wild habitats,” Stankowich said. “The more we encroach on these places, coyotes will either be pushed out or forced to live among us. All of the studies I’ve seen show that when we remove an animal by any means, there will be others to fill the vacuum. We’re never going to be able to get rid of coyotes—so our best approach is to live more harmoniously with them.”

Besides the usual means to fend off coyotes—hazing, securing trash lids, not leaving food out and keeping pets on leashes or inside—Stankowich mentioned some of the more out-of-the-box ideas that his laboratory is researching to defend pets against predators. He wants to develop battle gear for dogs to wear, which conjures interesting images, and also wants to use the knowledge of how skunks successfully defend themselves against coyotes, a mystery to few of us, to help protect pets. If it’s possible, equipping a cat with skunk musk might work wonders.

Not all encounters between animals and coyotes end badly, although most of them do. Stankowich said that there were a couple of playful incidents between coyotes and dogs.

“I heard one story where a dog was playing with a coyote,” he said. “The people would chase the coyote away, and the coyote would come back to play.”

Coyotes and dogs are both part of the Canidae family, but Stankowich did note that all the dogs in the playmate groupings he’d heard of were big fellas.

“I can’t see a Yorkie playing with a coyote,” he said.

Brown coyote walks through brush and trees against a blue sky.

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Follow this link to answer questions in the Stankowich Lab’s survey. Use a separate form for each pet entered. Data will be collected until further notice.

 

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Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”
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