Coyote Ugly

Think the only concern that folks in Destin have is tourists coming into the area and backing up traffic? Think again. There’s another type of outsider who has taken up along the beautiful Emerald Coast and caused fear among the locals. This outsider isn’t here for the sun, sand, or sinful behavior. No, he’s here to attack vulnerable residents. Who is this bad guy? A coyote. He’s out to stuff himself from a buffet of domestic animals.

What the heck is a coyote doing in the Florida Panhandle by the beach? My conception of a coyote is of an animal found in the desert or the prairies out West. Think Wile E. Coyote. He and the Road Runner were never gallivanting about by the seaside. Tumbleweeds and cacti were in the background–not palm trees and sand dunes.

But coyotes are everywhere now, not just in the West. According to the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC), coyotes can currently be found in all states except for Hawaii. But for the intervening Pacific Ocean, I’m sure they’d be in the Aloha State as well. And not only are they in 49 of the 50 states, but coyotes, per the FWC, are in nearly every large city in the U.S. Yes, coyotes are commonly spotted in urban areas. According to National Geographic, coyotes have colonized najor cities such as Los Angeles. The coyotes can have LA as far as I am concerned, but they need to get their paws out of Destin.

The coyote population, unlike many other wild animals, is on the increase. In fact, our country may now have an all time high number of coyotes. They are not just IN Florida, coyotes are EVERYWHERE IN Florida. Coyotes, who have been in Florida since the 1970’s, have been tracked in every single county of the Sunshine State..

While coyotes may have migrated to Florida, they are native to North America. The animal appears in Native American tales as a clever beast. In real life, the coyote has shown just how clever he is by adapting to our country’s changing landscape. Residence in the desert not working out? Well, the coyote just picks up and moves to Florida apparently.

Why is the coyote so adaptable? It is naturally adaptable because it eats a wide variety of foods. It is an omnivore (will eat animals and plants) with an opportunistic diet. Coyotes are scavengers who will eat whatever food is available.The coyote is happy to dine on berries off a bush or pets off of your patio. Coyotes will eat almost anything. Although varied, the coyote’s diet consists mainly of animal meat. Coyotes are in Destin because there are yummy pets for the pilfering.

What’s a caring pet owner (whether in Destin or not) to do? Well, the best advice is what NOT to do. Do NOT leave pet food outside. Coyotes are often attracted to dog food. And while you are at it, don’t leave your pet outside either. Keep your cats indoors and do NOT allow them to roam freely. Fluffy might not like being kept indoors, but cats don’t like much of anything anyway. Better alive and grumpy than dead–cats do not typically survive coyote attacks. Coyotes will also eat out of open garbage cans. Cover and secure your outside garbage cans. And for heaven’s sake, don’t let your cat jump in one. Coyotes also prey on small dogs, so keep Fifi and her jeweled collar inside with you. Don’t get a false sense of security just because you have a fenced back yard. Coyotes are good diggers. Not only can they dig their own dens (sorry, coyote contractors), but they can dig under a fence.

We know that coyotes are looking for pet snacks, but what should pet owners be on the lookout for? A coyote is basically a wild canine. It is related to, but smaller than, a wolf. A typical coyote is one third the size of a wolf and weighs between 18 to 44 pounds if male and 14 to 40 pounds if female. Yes, even female coyotes have to watch their girlish figures. Coyotes generally resemble a small German shepherd. They have long bushy tails, sharp pointed ears, and sharp pointed noses.

Coyotes are largely nocturnal and are most active at dawn and/or dusk. Thus, you are more likely to see a coyote if you are out bar-hopping in Destin at night than you are shopping at the outlet stores in the afternoon. If you do see a coyote, don’t be afraid. (Easier said than done, I know.) Coyotes are normally timid and stay away from people, although coyote attacks on people have occurred. Experts recommend that if a coyote approaches you, don’t run. That would be pointless since a coyote can run up to 40 mph. Instead, frighten the coyote away be making loud noises. No problem. I’m pretty sure I could scream my head off if a coyote was accosting me.

Speaking of noise, coyotes are known for making some. Their scientific name, canis latrens, means “barking dog.” Coyotes have some distinctive vocalizations including howling, barking, and yipping. The cry of the coyote, consisting of a series of high-pitched yelps, can be heard in the early evening. Howling is done to communicate with other coyotes nearby. Of course, inebriated tourists in Destin may also do some howling as they attempt to have a “howl” of a good time, so the coyote doesn’t have the corner on howling.

Why my fascination with the coyote? Unfortunately, the coyote ugly truth is that a coyote may be the reason why my daughter’s cat went out in the backyard and never returned. The cat was chipped and clearly well cared for. Efforts on social media (lost pets and neighborhood group) to find my beloved grandkitty were unsuccessful. I’d like to think that someone took Yuri in and is caring for him, although I wish they’d tried to find his owner by checking for a chip, etc. Sadly, Yuri may have ended up as coyote chow. Hopefully, he gave the coyote the fight of his life and made him howl in pain before succumbing. Coyotes are beautiful animals, but they act ugly towards pets.

JUST WONDER-ing: Have you ever seen a coyote? Is the urbanization of our society forcing animals to move their habitat? Whose fault is it ultimately when coyotes end up in urban areas and must scavenge for pets and garbage to survive?