Coyote Sightings a New Norm in Malibu

Coyote sightings in Malibu have gone up dramatically in recent months as the animals search for sustenance during the drought.

Malibu residents have been abuzz in recent weeks over the spike in neighborhood coyote sightings and attacks on pets, raising fears and causing uncertainty among some locals.

The drought period has brought thirsty animals down from the hills and out of the canyons looking for food and water, leading them into residential neighborhoods and closer contact with people and pets.  

Unfortunately, to a coyote, a small dog or cat is an acceptable substitute for the prey they would normally find in the wild – rabbits and rodents. But it’s not just a lack of food and water attracting the coyotes to greener spaces. Some residents also report an increase in the number of coyotes after the Springs Fire that burnt 43 square miles of Point Mugu and the western Santa Monica Mountains to a crisp in May 2013.

In response to the perceived threat posed by coyotes, some Point Dume residents recently started a “Malibu Coyote Post” group on Facebook. Currently up to 43 members, it’s billed as “an awareness group of concerned neighbors [that have come together for the purpose of] sharing stories, information, tips and precautions about the increasing coyote attacks and presence in Malibu residential areas.”

Members of the Nextdoor Western Malibu group, an online network of 89 residents from Busch Drive to the county line, as well as adjoining networks for Point Dume and Winding Way/Murphy Way, have been burning up with neighbor-to-neighbor reports of coyote sightings.

On June 29, Malibu Park resident Diane Pope wrote about coyotes attacking two neighborhood dogs and a cat, plus her own cat, usually with humans present — twice in broad daylight. 

“The Ventura [Springs] Fire drove survivors into my area. Instead of three packs of coyotes, we now have five. Sightings on my property increased — I gave up counting at 29.”

On Point Dume between June 27 and June 30, coyotes were spotted by residents on Las Olas Way in the Zuma Bay Villas and in the gully between Zumirez Drive and Wildlife Road.  

Rick Mullen of Ramirez Canyon wrote on June 29, “[The coyotes] are out in force and hungry. We periodically lose a chicken or two to them, so it’s been a while since we let the chickens out. Caution for domesticated animals is definitely in order…But isn’t it great that we have these wonderful wild animals still living amongst us? Someday they’ll be gone — a sad day.”

Some of the postings indicate that urban myths surrounding the coyote still persist, even among Malibu residents.

Seth Riley, a National Park Service scientist who has studied the local coyote population extensively, has done his best to dispel these rumors. 

“Many people express fear that coyotes will harm children. In fact, in this area, only one instance of a small child getting killed by a coyote is documented, and that was 30 years ago in Glendale. The child’s parents had been leaving food out for the coyotes. A lot of information about coyotes is anecdotal and not based on science,” Riley said.

“Many people express fear that urban coyotes live mainly by eating dogs and cats; and in fact, some of that does happen,” he said. 

But his studies showed that only one percent of the food eaten by coyotes consists of family pets. The largest portion of their diets was actually fruit, which made up 19 percent of their food intake, followed by rabbits and then insects.

The Los Angeles area is currently in the midst of an “extreme” drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, which says conditions are the worst since they first began monitoring them in the year 2000. 

The City of Malibu even updated its webpage of coyote information by adding the following for 2014: “Due to California’s severe drought conditions, animals are increasingly coming into busy public areas to find food and water. This also means coyotes are more comfortable around humans and can exhibit uncharacteristic behaviors. Animals are being seen more often in the middle of the day, are more aggressive, and can be destructive to irrigation lines, hoses, gardens, and landscape.”