On Dec. 3, local newscasts played the video of a coyote that tried to carry away a toddler from the sidewalk of her Woodland Hills home while her father was unloading the car. The father chased it away. That video was played hundreds of times by every TV station over a period of several days.
Judging by the posts on social media here in Malibu since then, people were scared. It seemed like every local coyote sighting was posted, along with photos and videos.
Due to overwhelming public pressure, officials captured the offending Woodland Hills coyote on Dec. 9 and later euthanized it after DNA identification.
So, how does this kind of scenario happen, and what can be done to prevent it? Coyotes exist everywhere in our local area.
“It was a perfect storm,” said Rebecca Dmytryk, Malibu native and original founder of the California Wildlife Center. She was brought to Woodland Hills shortly after the coyote incident by a wildlife coalition in order to investigate why the coyotes in that city were going after people.
It all started when a number of homeless people living in their cars in an area near the intersection of Burbank Blvd. and Shoup Avenue started hand-feeding the local coyotes “for months on end,” Dmytryk said. The animals became very accustomed to people and getting food from people.
The coyotes became such a “problem” that a nearby church, the Prince of Peace Episcopal Church, hired a trapper to come in. Dmytryk said they were not using humane traps — they were using snare traps, which capture the animal by the neck or leg. This kind of trapping is illegal without special written consent from officials, and Dmytryk wasn’t sure if the church had obtained permission to do this or not. Nevertheless, she knows of at least one coyote that was killed in the process and said there were probably more.
One of the problems with killing coyotes is that they tend to be the “elders” of the coyote pack — the ones who would teach the young coyotes how to live and how to stay away from humans. Once they’re dead, the young members of the pack have no good examples to follow, in addition to being orphaned.
The last element of the “perfect storm” was the fact that there was a huge construction site in the same area — near the homeless people, the church doing the trapping, and the home of the toddler that the coyote tried to grab.
“The workers at this construction site were leaving all kinds of leftover food behind,” Dmytryk observed. They included half-eaten sandwiches, cookies, chicken bones, etc., and a lot of the leftover food was inside big plastic bags that the coyotes learned to pick up and carry off to a safe place where they could eat it. The coyotes learned that the construction site was a place where they could find food.
Dmytryk theorizes that the toddler, who looked like a small round ball of pink wearing a puffy winter coat and hat, was mistaken for a plastic garbage bag of food scraps by the coyote. The coyote was not “attacking” the little girl so much as trying to drag off what it thought was a bag of food before realizing it was too heavy. From the video, it’s difficult to tell that the bundled-up 2-year-old was even a person.
“This was 100 percent preventable,” said Dmytryk. “It’s not that coyotes lose their fear of humans, but they do increase their tolerance of us when they can get food rewards, including cat food that people put out. Coyotes need to be consistently chased off and shooed away.
“Scaring is caring,” she emphasized. “When they come into our territory, we have to do something to scare them and make them stay farther away from us — teach them to stay at a respectful distance.”
Dmytryk is helping to develop a progressive coyote response plan to present to the Los Angeles City Council, which includes a directive to the City of Los Angeles Animal Services to receive training in best practices when called about coyotes.
“All communities need a progressive formal policy about how to respond to coyotes.”
One of her favorite resources for coyote information is the website for “Coyote Watch Canada.”
Malibu has a statement on how to co-exist with coyotes but nothing specifically on the city’s response to them.