Las Vegas Sun

May 27, 2018

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Coyotes among us: How to live with them in the Las Vegas Valley

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To spot a predator: With Southern Nevada’s continuing drought, daylight spottings of coyotes are going to become more common.

A battle is brewing in Paradise Palms — a neighborhood otherwise known for its charming midcentury modern homes. Coyotes are stalking residents, snatching beloved pets and striking fear into the hearts of parents: Could their small children be next?

The last one is highly unlikely. But it doesn’t stop humans from fearing the Big Bad Wolf’s smaller cousin … and then arguing about possible solutions on the internet.

“It’s continuous and ongoing,” said Dan Stafford of Paradise Palms’ coyote neighbors. He’s a resident and administrator of the neighborhood’s Facebook group. “It’s been going on for months on the residents’ page, people going back and forth on how to handle it.”

Paradise Palms residents attribute the canine invasion to being near the Flamingo Wash and the Las Vegas National Golf Club, both of which are appealing to urban wildlife. Coyotes have reached through fences to attack pets in their own backyards.

The neighborhood has considered hiring a company to come out and trap them, but that method comes with hefty sticker shock. It can cost about $1,000 per trap, and results aren’t guaranteed.

“It’s very sticky,” Stafford said. “You have a wily natural predator that is an unprotected species. However, it’s illegal to hunt within the Las Vegas Valley, so legally hunting them is out.” But that hasn’t stopped some residents from considering arming themselves and forming a “task force” to kill the coyotes. Others have threatened to “quietly take care of it by themselves.”

Historically, killing coyotes doesn’t seem to accomplish much beyond encouraging them to birth more pups to replace lost numbers. “As a country, we have been killing hundreds of thousands of coyotes every year, and now we have more than ever before,” said Lynsey White, of the Humane Society of the United States. “It’s the best indicator of how killing coyotes doesn’t work. We’re stuck with them whether you like them or not, but I like them.”

Stafford points out that Metro Police installed audio gunshot detectors, which allows authorities to triangulate the location of shots fired. “I’m afraid of somebody shooting a coyote and getting a Metro helicopter over their house,” Stafford said.

His official position as head of an unofficial group is to do nothing. “I believe this is a natural occurrence,” Stafford said. “Each homeowner can deal with it as they may. If they feel they need to shoot or trap a coyote, they can. I’m not going to get violent with a coyote. And I don’t expect a golf course to do anything; I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect any property to pay ridiculous amounts of money to stop something so natural.”

We’ve Built Them a Buffet

Paradise Palms is by no means an outlier. Coyotes are native to the Mojave Desert, and they’re one of the few species that thrive in the shadows of humans. Coyotes now live in every major metro area in the United States, and Las Vegas is no exception. The natural wash system that criss-crosses the valley serves as a travel corridor connecting one desert oasis after another for coyotes (as well as other local critters, such as raptors, snakes, lizards, gray foxes, bobcats and sometimes even mountain lions). For a desert predator, a master-planned community is as good as a meal plan at a college dorm.

“When you come into driest desert in the United States, and you add grass, water, enhanced vegetation, the first thing you attract is mice, rats and other small rodents—the primary diet of a small predator. … It only makes sense that these animals will take advantage of that resource,” said Doug Nielsen of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “I’d like to say we’ve created a buffet, but we can’t pick and choose who comes to dinner.”

How many of these coyotes are coming to dinner? There’s no way to know. “It’d be darn near impossible [to count],” Nielsen said. “They’re a pretty elusive animal.” However, he assured us that the Mojave does have a “healthy population” of coyotes: “There’s not a shortage of them by any means.”

What’s a human to do?

Nielsen has one surefire way to decrease the coyote population in the Valley, but you’re not going to like it. “We can take everything back to what it was before we built the first street or house in Las Vegas.”

We have other options as well. “Who can change their behavior?” Nielsen says. “Coyotes are going to be coyotes; humans have reason and can change. There are basic things we can do to reduce unpleasant experiences with coyotes.” And, fortunately, it doesn’t involve breaking any laws.

The most important thing you can do is to never feed the animals. “Coyotes come built to survive in this environment,” Nielsen said. “The best we can do is let them be.” When wild animals learn to associate humans with food, both the humans and the animals are put in danger.

Even if you’d never purposefully feed a coyote, be sure you’re not accidentally feeding one. Do not leave pet food outside. Secure your trash. And if you have fruit trees, pick up the fruit. Yes, coyotes are equal-opportunity eaters.

Finally, if you see a coyote in your neighborhood, make it feel unwelcome. Chase it until it runs completely out of sight, while yelling, waving your arms and making yourself as big as possible. If you have a water hose, spray it. If you have a rock, throw it. If you have an air horn or whistle, blow it. “Hazing” is the official term for this behavior. The goal is to instill a healthy fear into their psyche.

When all else fails, employ a strong dose of humor. The residents of Paradise Palms purchased a decoy coyote that roams from neighborhood party to party. It’s airbrushed and bears a furry tail. When somebody comes home from a neighborhood social, they’ll find the coyote on their front yard with a note that says, “I am the Paradise Palms Coyote. Please share me.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.