As coyotes roam Charlotte, local pest-control experts' phones are ringing with calls from concerned residents.
Though coyotes migrated from the Midwest to the Carolinas a decade ago, recent months have seen an uptick of concern about their proliferation.
People are spotting them on their greenways, in their neighborhoods and parks. Cats have gone missing and a handful of dogs have been attacked in neighborhoods along McAlpine Greenway and elsewhere.
Chris Flanagan, general manager of the local Critter Control, said that even though he gets several calls about coyotes a month, he's not yet ready to take on coyote trapping.
Trappers most often use a series of leg traps, camouflaged with the surroundings, to catch coyotes. But in setting the trap, you run the risk of a pet or stray accidentally stepping into it.
An incident like that could upset pet owners and animal activists and wouldn't be good for business, Flanagan said.
"Public perception just hasn't changed enough for us to risk the poor publicity we would get," said Flanagan. "It's going to take a very serious situation for people's opinions to change."
Flanagan directs people to the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission website, www.ncwildlife.org/, where a long list of licensed coyote trappers is available.
Though he doesn't hunt coyotes, Flanagan, who lives on farmland in the northernmost part of Iredell County, has had a number of run-ins with them. For years, he said, coyotes had been stealing neighbors' livestock, and feral cats were missing.
Gone was the native turkey population, and it used to be that you could see "200 in a flock at a time."
But then the coyotes disappeared, which Flanagan believes is due to either a disappearing food supply or disease spreading through the packs.
Chris Matthews, natural resources manager for Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, recently developed a web form where residents can report coyote sightings.
Matthews said more than 600 sightings from across the county have been reported since the page went up earlier this month. But the county has logged only half of the sightings on a map. So far, clusters of 15 to 20 coyotes have been reported west of the University area, along a stretch from Plaza Midwood to Cotswold, in Matthews and in the Arboretum area of south Charlotte.
Surprisingly, no sightings have been reported in Mint Hill where there's lots of open land, said Matthews, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. It could be that Mint Hill residents just haven't logged their sightings.
Licensed trapper Walter English, who's on the state list, traps across 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.
That first year, in 2006, he trapped 16 coyotes in South Carolina. The second year, he trapped 35.
English charges $100 to $150 for a setting-up fee, and then an additional charge once he catches the coyote. If he doesn't trap the coyote within 10 days, though, he refunds the initial charge.
A-1 Wildlife Control founder Allen Eckman said he's been getting a call about coyotes about every two weeks - three times the usual amount.
Most are from the outskirts of the city, around I-485, and in the towns of Matthews, Davidson and Rock Hill.
But many people aren't interested in his private services once they find out they'll have to pay for them. Concerns over the proliferating coyote population have prompted N.C. wildlife officials to consider expanding the hours when coyotes can be hunted.
Currently, coyote hunting is permitted in North Carolina only during the day. But the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is proposing that coyotes - and feral pigs - be hunted at night with guns, except on Sundays, when bow-and-arrow hunting would be the only legal method.
What's unclear, however, is how the proposal would affect residents in Charlotte and other urban areas, where the use of firearms and archery equipment is limited by law.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has scheduled public hearings on the proposed hunting law changes. Matthews and his agency are searching for money to pay for collars with GPS to tag coyotes and track their movement.
"We are having ... discussions with some of the (county) budget people, and we've had some discussions with the state," said Matthews. "But we don't have anything firmed up right now."