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Environment & Science

Living among coyotes is a fact of life in Los Angeles

Photo of a California coyote. Some Huntington Beach residents recount feeling unsafe when seeing the animals prowl through their neighborhoods.
Photo of a California coyote. Some Huntington Beach residents recount feeling unsafe when seeing the animals prowl through their neighborhoods.
Steve Thompson/Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Now for the first in a three-part series on dogs and cats. Big ones, that is.

If you live in Los Angeles, you may be familiar with the large population of coyotes that lives in the area. Living near coyotes requires some extra precautions (like keeping pets indoors), but there are some things you can’t prepare for. Jed Kim brings us this report from the wilds of Los Angeles. 

Deborah Del Prete has lived right below Griffith Park for just over three years. She loves her neighborhood, because it’s so peaceful...for the most part.  

"We don’t have any highway noises, or, you know, we’re not in a flight path," said Del Prete. "Now and then a helicopter goes by. It’s fantastic to live in this area, because besides the coyotes, it’s really, really quiet."  

Did you catch that "besides the coyotes" caveat? There are coyotes nearby and they can get loud. If you’ve never heard coyotes at night, it takes a little getting used to. 

"The first time I heard it, I thought, 'What is that?' I mean, it was a little scary, you know, a little alarming. You were like, 'Oh my God, what’s happening right outside?'" said Del Prete. 

As alarming as the coyotes sound, Del Prete has gotten pretty used to them. "I really don’t think many a night goes by we don’t hear it at least once," she said. 

If there were a ranking of nightmarish neighbors to have, coyotes would be pretty high on the list. Besides making a racket, they’re likely to eat pets, root through your garbage, and frighten homeowners. Plus, just like that one neighbor you really can’t stand, they’re probably never going to leave. See, unlike many animals, coyotes do really well near humans.

Kevin Brennan is a wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and an expert on coyotes here in Southern California. He says their population has exploded in recent decades, so much so that it’s hard to keep track of how many there are. 

"We can have populations that are anywhere from 12 to 20 times greater density in suburban settings than naturally occur in the wild," said Brennan. "It’s kind of like measuring hay in haystacks or sand on the beach. But in California, we conservatively estimate that we have about half a million coyotes in the state. So, the coyote problem is here to stay with us. It’s just keeping it at a manageable level."

Statistically, deaths due to coyotes are still miniscule. In fact, there’s only ever been one recorded instance in the U.S., but attacks are on the rise.

"Current data suggests that coyote attacks are on the increase overal, particularly in Southern California," said Brennan. "So when coyote problems arise, it’s up to the individual homeowners to handle the problem themselves."

He says this area now sees about half a dozen reports of aggression towards humans each year. Those extreme cases are the only times Fish and Wildlife will step in to remove a coyote. That’s because LA County doesn’t have a trapping program. 

Brennan suggests homeowners use a deterrence as a way to keep coyotes from becoming established in the first place. That means keeping a close eye on pets, securing all garbage, picking up the fruit that falls from trees. Also, it helps to be a bit of a bad neighbor yourself.

"Don’t let them feel comfortable in your neighborhood," said Brennan. "Yell at them, make noise, throw things at them. I’m a big fan of tennis balls, because no matter how hard you throw them, you’re not going to hurt any animal, and you’re not going to damage your neighbor’s car."

While these steps may help keep coyotes from becoming a danger, they don’t do much for the noise. But Del Prete says that’s just part of what it means to live here these days. 

"They’re here. I mean, they’re not going to get rid of them. And no, there’s nothing you can do about the sound. But it truly becomes a background noise to you," said Del Prete. 

It’s learning to cope, which means enjoying the times that are a little less noisy. This sound you’re hearing is mainly pups getting excited over whatever food their parents are bringing home. Brennan says it’s in late fall when the juveniles are hitting the town for the first time that things will get really loud.