By CARI HACHMANN, The Portland Observer
More coyote sightings in Portland’s urban landscape lead researchers to believe that the welcoming behavior of humans has encouraged the resilient wild animals to do what is natural for them; adapt, in this case, too close for comfort.
“We’ve created the habitat for coyotes, so they are just taking advantage to live in it,” says Barbara Brower, a geography professor at Portland State University and co-originator of the Urban Coyote Project.
Several residents have increasingly spotted up to two and three opportunistic scavengers strolling on sidewalks, napping in streets, and playing near parks in several north and northeast Portland neighborhoods, including Alameda, Concordia, Humboldt, Grant, Irvington and Beaumont-Wilshire.
For some, such extraordinary sightings are surprising and beautiful, but many local people are alarmed and fearful.
A coyote seeking refuge in an urban surrounding is no new concept, and one pack has settled in these human habitats for almost eight years now. However, the furry mutts usually tend to keep a low profile, avoiding humans, and surviving on a diet of rodents, raccoons, and insects.
Only recently have these carnivorous creatures demonstrated a change in behavior with increased attempts to hunt and kill family pets and backyard livestock.
In response to a rise in coyote-related pet deaths, a neighborhood meeting was held earlier this month to help people understand urban coyotes, and bring awareness and conflict management strategies to concerned community members.
The Urban Coyote Project forum was led by Brower; Audubon Society of Portland Conservation Director Bill Salinger; and the group of PSU student researchers.
Coyotes are here to stay, the presenters explained.
If coyotes are removed or exterminated in a territory, others quickly travel from outside areas, as much as 60 miles a day, to take their place. Thus, the first response to trap or eliminate the species proves unbeneficial.
So, how can we learn to live with these animals in a way that guarantees the safety of people, pets, and coyotes?
Researchers say our best alternative is to “restore instinctive behavior” in the animals by refusing to feed coyotes and make them feel as unwelcome as possible.
“Make them unwelcome. Lock up cats and ducks. Yell very loud when you see them. You want them to run from you. You want to throw things and scare them. There safety and our safety depend on them being afraid of us. You’ve got to yell really loud,” Brower advises.
Experienced by her own research involving yak herds, Tibetan wolves, and snow leopards in the Himalayas, Brower explains how one person systematically feeding coyotes day after day after day, makes them very comfortable around people, and once a coyote has been habituated, such humanized behavior is dispersed among the pack and eventually the young.
Other suggestions to reduce human-coyote conflicts are found on the Portland Audubon Society website. They include taking action to secure garbage can covers and compost bins and removing fallen fruit from yards. Residents are advised to never deliberately approach coyotes to scare them away. Keeping house pets indoors, especially from dusk to dawn when coyotes are most active is advised.
The actual threat of coyotes attacking people is rare.
Though coyotes have been bad guys in myth and reality, we can all work to follow the advice of experts to discourage their troubling behavior and fear not the wild and uncontrollable creatures living among us.