July 10, 2014

Charlotte residents howl about coyotes

Coyote sightings have become increasingly common in some Charlotte neighborhoods, evidence that the resourceful animals are here to stay.

Coyote sightings have become increasingly common in some Charlotte neighborhoods, evidence that the resourceful animals are here to stay.

Some describe the coyotes as vicious and responsible for killing cats, dogs and pet rabbits, while others are simply startled by their presence in an urban setting.

Gail Chauncey has lived in Selwyn Farms south of uptown for 20 years but said she saw her first coyote earlier this year, trotting on a sidewalk. As the lights from her car fell on the animal, it darted into a nearby wooded area.

Now, when Chauncey takes her 10-pound Chihuahua mix on a walk, she carries an air horn and is “literally looking over my shoulder.”

Selwyn Farms and surrounding areas had Mecklenburg County’s highest concentration of reported coyote sightings since 2012, according to an analysis of county records. Residents there reported at least 60 sightings.

Mecklenburg County asked residents to report coyote sightings on the county’s website in 2012. Residents have filed more than 1,600 entries, with roughly 1,200 entries in the first year.

Fewer than 200 sightings have been reported this year.

Chris Matthews, a director for the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation department, said there was an initial spike of reports when the website first launched. He said reports have decreased as people become accustomed to coyotes in their area.

County officials caution that the city does not confirm the sightings and the same animal could be reported multiple times.

Matthews said neighborhoods like Selwyn Farms generate more coyote reports because fences block coyotes’ access to wooded areas, forcing them to walk streets and sidewalks. He said coyotes are also commonly reported on golf courses and greenways.

Pockets of west Mecklenburg also saw a high number of reports, the Observer found. More than 20 sightings were reported near Brookshire Boulevard and Sunset Road by Interstate 485.

One Matthews resident who reported a coyote on a sidewalk did not seem alarmed: “Not aggressive in any way but definitely self-assured.”

‘Here to stay’

Elizabeth Drummond, who lives in Selwyn Farms along with her sister, said a coyote ate her sister’s 14-year-old cat, Zellie, Monday morning. She said the cat was left outside for a few minutes, then it was gone.

“There was just a smattering of orange and white fur left,” she said.

After Zellie’s disappearance, the Drummonds’ first call was to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control, which redirected her call to the park and recreation. Animal Care and Control does not deal with wildlife unless there is an issue of rabies.

Drummond said the park and recreation department told the Drummonds there was nothing they could do about coyotes in the area.

“They’re here to stay,” Drummond said. “That’s about the only message I’ve gotten.”

Matthews said coyotes are part of the city’s wildlife now, but residents can take steps to decrease the likelihood of a negative encounter.

“Now it’s about educating people,” he said.

He said to keep small animals indoors, especially during the night. If confronted by a coyote, he said, people should make loud noises and wave their arms to scare it away.

Rupert Medford, N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission biologist for the Charlotte area, said urban coyotes have diverse diets, which sometimes includes small dogs and cats. Coyotes more commonly eat small rodents, deer and fruits, he said.

“Outdoor cats are not safe to have in areas where there are coyotes,” he said. “If you love your cat, bring it indoors.”

Urban coyotes

Matthews said coyotes in urban environments tend to live longer because hunters cannot shoot in the city, and coyotes can scavenge through garbage and pet food.

“The only thing they really have to worry about is being struck by a car,” he said.

But Matthews said coyotes are not a threat to people. He said people are more likely to get bitten by their neighbor’s dog than by a coyote. He said there are thousands of cases of rabid racoons in Charlotte, but he is only aware of two rabid coyotes.

“There’s a perception out there that the data doesn’t really support,” he said.

Medford said coyotes have puppies in spring, and around mid-summer those pups are larger and need to eat. He said this forces the normally nocturnal coyotes to take risks, including being out during the daylight and looking for food closer to humans, that they would not normally take.

He said the only way he would consider coyotes dangerous is if they have grown comfortable around humans, perhaps due to people feeding them, causing them to grow aggressive.

The only way to remove a coyote is to contract a private trapper, which can cost hundreds of dollars or more.

Walter English, who is on the state list of licensed trappers, works in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties.

English started trapping in 1976 and quit the business in 1989. He picked up trapping again six years ago when he started hearing about coyote sightings.

He said coyotes are more difficult and expensive to trap than other animals. He said coyotes have a keen sense of smell and a high degree of intelligence.

“I’ve caught everything with four legs, and you have to have all your ducks in row as a trapper to catch him.” Database editor Gavin Off contributed.

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