Big Rock battles coyote takeover

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Canyon residents are facing an increased coyote population that has threatened pets and leaves people searching for solutions.

By Katherine Peach / Special to the Malibu Times

Big Rock homeowners banded together this past week in an effort to stop coyote attacks on local pets. Seventeen-year-old Koral Simpson welcomed the neighborhood into her home last Thursday to hear Valley Wildlife Care experts address solutions.

Simpson organized the meeting with mother, Jewel Simpson, after a neighbor lost a pet in a brutal coyote attack. The young woman is no stranger to the creatures, but said her concern is growing as they become more “brazen” and attacks are becoming more frequent. She said the coyotes have taken over the neighborhood.

“It didn’t use to be like this,” Simpson said. “The only way we can take control of this is if we get together to solve the problem as a community.”

Neighbor Christiana D’Amore, of D’Amore’s Pizza, spoke about the loss of her teacup Yorkshire to a rapt crowd. D’Amore watched a coyote attack and kill her dog, called CoCo Puff, in front of her while in the yard. She said her dogs rarely left her side, but she thought they would be safe to roam at 3 p.m. when the attack occurred.

Anxious canyon residents cited an increased coyote population in recent years. Many expressed concern about the attitudes of the coyotes that are growing less afraid of humans. Simpson and other alleged people in the neighborhood fed the animals, going as far as to let coyotes enter the house to get food.

Brenda Varvarigos, a representative from Valley Wildlife Care, spoke about what residents could do to protect pets and coexist with the creatures. She said feeding or hurting coyotes is not only illegal, but increases the problem. Varvarigos said food left out for pets or grazing animals will still attract coyotes.

Los Angeles County forbids residents to feed predatory wildlife, such as coyotes and raccoons. Fines can be as high as $1,000, if caught feeding such animals, even by attempting to feed deer with compost, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. It is illegal to trap a coyote without a permit and anyone caught hurting one can be fined up $7,000, Varvarigos said.

“The bottom line is that they live here,” Varvarigos said. “They live in the city, live in the urban areas and there is no other place from them to make a home.”

The Department of Fish and Game estimates anywhere from 250,000 to 750,000 coyotes live in the state. The average coyote weighs 20 to 25 pounds, and can run as fast as 40 mile per hour. Varvarigos said they are natural scavengers and opportunistic hunters, killing any small animal given the chance.

Varvarigos has worked with Camarillo Wildlife Rehabilitation rescuing injured or orphaned wild animals since 2002.

“We create the ideal environment,” she said, “by watering, leaving out garbage, compost and small pets.”

She explained that coyotes couldn’t tell the difference between a small dog and a rabbit.

“When they see a little dog, I do believe they are very brave,” Vivian Richman, a local resident, said at the meeting. Richman owns a German shorthair and Dalmatian mix dog that isn’t bothered by the coyote population.

Varvarigos recommends that residents cover compost and garbage, and confine small animals when not under human supervision. Fences need to be higher than five and a half feet tall to keep coyotes from climbing over. Brush and shrubbery should be trimmed to reduce possible living space for the animals.

Coyotes do not create their own dens, instead settling in manmade structures in urban settings. They are naturally fearful of people, yet have conformed to living in proximity to humans, according to the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services. They do help control the rodent population and kill pests that carry disease.

Rosie Strickland said she understands the roll the coyotes play, but is worried about their increased confidence. As a Big Rock resident, she has lived in the area since the ‘80s. She said coyotes are approaching within three feet of her house and watching residents instead of running away.

“Having lived here all these years, you get used to living with things like snakes, tarantulas and the occasional coyote,” she said. “[However], it’s really become a problem.”