Mating season for coyotes amplifies howls in San Antonio’s urban wildlife soundtrack

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On a recent weeknight, just before dusk, a dozen dog owners at Alamo Heights Bark Park on the wooded edge of Olmos Basin were treated to the sound of a howling chorus of coyotes during mating season. .

It’s a surprising but almost normal addition to the urban soundtrack at this time of year, depending on where you live.

The coyotes were so close that the usually oblivious Rottweilers and Border Collies behind the park’s 6-foot fence paused for the minute-long chorus, as if paying ancestral canine respect.

“I think they’re so cool. I’ve never heard them so loud before,” said Kaitie Smith, an early childhood educator who has been taking her Bandit to the dog park since 2018.

A coyote walks through the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center in Kendalia on Thursday. The group advises a hands-off approach for coyotes, but treats up to a dozen seriously injured San Antonio people each year.

Sam Owens /San Antonio Express-News

Collin Mathews, a software developer with two heavy black labs, said he grew up nearby and played Little League baseball on the diamonds just across the street, but never heard the coyotes as a child.

“I love hearing them and I have no problem with them, as long as they don’t chase the neighborhood dogs,” he said.

That’s not often a problem, experts say, but if coyotes lose their natural fear of humans, nocturnal and opportunistic predators will feel more comfortable snooping around streets and yards.

Most people have only heard them, but the observations of the Canis latrans are not uncommon in the brushy trails of many area parks. They are buff in color, normally weigh between 25 and 40 pounds, have large erect ears, and trot their tails downward.

Contrary to popular perception in Texas, you cannot legally shoot a coyote, whether in rural or urban settings, if the coyote does not pose a direct threat to livestock, poultry, pets, or humans, a said Houston attorney Dylan Price.

A female coyote prepares to catch a dead mouse at the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center Thursday in Kendalia.  The group advises a hands-off approach for coyotes, but treats up to a dozen seriously injured San Antonio people each year.

A female coyote prepares to catch a dead mouse at the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center Thursday in Kendalia. The group advises a hands-off approach for coyotes, but treats up to a dozen seriously injured San Antonio people each year.

Sam Owens /San Antonio Express-News

If warranted by those factors, he said, state law would supersede any local city ordinance prohibiting the discharge of a firearm — but officers could charge someone with animal cruelty. animals for unprovoked and baseless murder.

Alamo Heights Deputy Police Chief Cindy Pruitt said in her 22 years with the department, she had never heard of a dangerous encounter between a coyote and a human within the boundaries. of the small town.

“We’ve had sightings all the way to New Braunfels (Avenue), and I know they’re in Terrell Hills as well,” Pruitt said, adding that it’s illegal in Alamo Heights and many cities in Texas to feed. wildlife and animal predators. .

Pruitt agreed with wildlife biologists that coyotes by nature want to avoid people, but with dwindling natural food sources they will be drawn to urban and suburban alternatives: rodents, feral cats and dog food left behind. in garden bowls.

“We get calls at this time of year. January and February are their mating season,” said Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife biologist Matt Reidy. “The biggest problem is that coyotes are getting used to human food and dog and cat food.”

A coyote walks through the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center in Kendalia on Thursday.  The group advises a hands-off approach for coyotes, but treats up to a dozen seriously injured San Antonio people each year.

A coyote walks through the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center in Kendalia on Thursday. The group advises a hands-off approach for coyotes, but treats up to a dozen seriously injured San Antonio people each year.

Sam Owens /San Antonio Express-News

Reidy said his agency has no tracking data on the movement of coyotes or any research indicating whether their numbers are changing in San Antonio.

But the sightings have been frequent enough that the Alamo Heights Police Department has a webpage called “coyote management” that offers tips, such as:

Close trash cans tightly and take them out for collection in the morning, not at night.

Pick ripe fruit from trees and fence vegetable gardens.

Keep pets indoors at night, not tied up outdoors.

Prevent dogs from running loose.

The tip sheet also advises against turning your back or running away from a coyote. If approached, make loud noises, throw rocks, use air horns, and make yourself or your group look as tall as possible.

A coyote walks through the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center in Kendalia on Thursday.  The group advises a hands-off approach for coyotes, but treats up to a dozen seriously injured San Antonio people each year.

A coyote walks through the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center in Kendalia on Thursday. The group advises a hands-off approach for coyotes, but treats up to a dozen seriously injured San Antonio people each year.

Sam Owens /San Antonio Express-News

There is some complexity to the coyote issue, said Lynn Cuny, founder and president of San Antonio-based Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, a private group established in 1977 that operates a care center in Basse and a sanctuary in Kendalia. , treating approximately 12,000 animals per year. .

Cuny said she saw her first coyote in her twenties more than 40 years ago near Olmos Basin while delivering the San Antonio Express-News on foot before dawn.

“No. 1, they are beautiful, stunning and intelligent. Just be grateful to have the opportunity to see or hear such a magnificent wild animal,” she said.

She agreed that coyotes have no desire to attack people, but in rare cases they might feel compelled to do so “because their habitat has been increasingly obliterated by us. Additionally, they know that we are the predator who has weapons.

If you were to fly over San Antonio today, she said, holding a 1970 aerial photo showing the city’s forest cover, you would see the “brutal destruction” of habitat that has driven many wild animals to move.

“The coyote was slandered, trapped and poisoned for eons,” Cuny said. “The coyote is unique in its ability to adapt to incredibly bad situations, and that will likely result in the survival of this species, but I’m sorry they have to adapt so much to us.”

Each year, its staff rescues six to 12 coyotes in San Antonio who have been hit by cars, injured by large dogs or shot by children with BB guns. They are also susceptible to distemper and parvovirus, which are highly contagious and also strike skunks, foxes and raccoons. But Cuny advises a hands-off approach.

“The last thing these animals want is to be darted (tranquilized) and taken to some weird hospital,” Cuny said. “Even though they have a hanging hind leg. It will atrophy. She’ll chew it or she’ll adapt.

“Leave the animals alone. Do nothing,” she advised. “If you see one bleeding and obviously in trouble, yes call Wildlife Rescue, but I’ll tell you we get all these calls from good people. benevolent women who want to fix a limping coyote…. And that’s just not what she wants.

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