DEP: COYOTES A PACK OF SCAREDY-CANINES

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Coyotes are probably here to stay in New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection officials told about 100 people at a two-hour information meeting in Middletown last night.

But the recent coyote attacks on humans are “an anomaly in the eastern United States,” said Division of Fish & Wildlife deputy commissioner for natural resources John Watson, Jr.

“It’s not feasible to remove them from Middletown,” added principal biologist Tony McBride. “But we can make them fear people again.”

Various tactics he suggested to “frighten and harass” and “enforce their natural fear of people” include blasting air horns, turning garden hoses on them, yelling and throwing rocks.

Leonardo resident Paula Wellbrock wasn’t sold. She believes her toy fox terrier was killed by a coyote in late May. (Wildlife officials aren’t so sure; they think her Lola was killed by another dog.)

“Fish and Wildlife [officials] have no experience with this, so they’re going by textbook,” she said. “The coyotes are running all over, and they’re not afraid of people. They walk right up to you.”

Since April, two children in Middletown have been attacked by coyotes, and several pets were reported to have been attacked, creating fear among residents.

The eastern coyote is relatively new, first sighted in 1939, but the experience of western-state officials in trying to eradicate coyote populations has shown that it’s virtually impossible to do so, said McBride.

The coyotes are typically afraid of humans, but have lost their fear because of living so close to them in suburban areas here, he explained. Coyotes mainly eat small mammals such as rabbits, woodchucks and carrion.

“They are non-aggressive toward humans, and dog attacks are very rare,” said McBride. On average, coyotes weigh only 40 pounds and will run from larger canines, he said; out west, dogs hunt coyotes.

That’s pretty far from Wellbrock’s experience. She said she had let her dog out at about 3a, and less than an hour later heard the dog “screaming, not yapping.” She and her husband ran after Lola into a small park near their home and found the dog’s body. On their way back out of the park entrance, they passed a coyote, she said.

Because of the incident, her family is putting out its garbage in the morning, not at night, and keeping flashlights and baseball bats on hand. Her three children are afraid, she said.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Wellbrock said, but “we’re going to have to learn to live with it.”

The DEP gave out an information sheet on eastern coyote characteristics with suggestions on how residents can protect themselves. The tips are listed below.

• Never feed a coyote. Deliberately feeding coyotes puts pets and other residents in the neighborhood at risk.

• Feeding pet cats and/or feral (wild) cats outdoors can attract coyotes. The coyotes feed on the pet food and also prey upon the cats.

• Put garbage in tightly closed containers that cannot be tipped over.

• Remove sources of water, especially in dry climates.

• Bring pets in at night.

• Put away bird feeders at night to avoid attracting rodents and other coyote prey.

• Provide secure enclosures for rabbits, poultry, and other farm animals.

• Pick up fallen fruit and cover compost piles.

• Although extremely rare, coyote attacks on humans have been known to occur. Parents should monitor their children, even in familiar surroundings, such as backyards.

• Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.

• Clear brush and dense weeds from around dwellings – this reduces protective cover for coyotes and makes the area less attractive to rodents and rabbits. Coyotes, as well as other predators, are attracted to areas where rodents are concentrated like woodpiles.

• If coyotes are present, make sure they know they’re not welcome. Make loud noises, blast a canned air siren, throw rocks, or spray them with a garden hose.

For the more adventurous, McBride also said trapping coyotes was legal, and hunting them — and red foxes — in season is now permitted by state law.

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