MANATEE -- Should coyotes be trapped and removed from communities or should we learn to live with them and teach them to avoid human contact?
Two Manatee County women are on opposite ends of the debate.
Melody Sweetman-Carpenter, whose dog was killed two weeks ago by a coyote, has dedicated herself to having the predators trapped and removed from Manatee County’s heavily residential areas.
Sweetman-Carpenter and her fledging coyote awareness group called ARI -- Arresting Renegade Invaders -- named after her Maltese, are hoping a new neighborhood coyote warning sign will be adopted by the state of Florida.
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The new warning sign, with tiny paws and the picture of a coyote, will be unveiled at 7 p.m. today when Sweetman-Carpenter speaks about the coyote problem at the Bay Lakes Estates’ homeowner association meeting at the Senior Center behind the Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurant, 6696 Cortez Road.
The public is invited to join Sweetman-Carpenter and Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie at 7:30 p.m. today for more discussion, she said. The sign was designed by Bradenton graphic artist Maurice Biaz.
“I think if we can get these signs placed everywhere coyotes have been spotted, it will keep people aware,” she said. “It could also save a child’s life. All I want is a solution to the problem.”
Coyotes have advocates
On the other side of the debate is Sarasota’s Becky Pomponio, a local representative for Project Coyote, a national organization founded by wildlife scientists who seek to educate the public.
Although she appreciates Sweetman-Carpenter’s loss and has two terriers of her own, Pomponio does not believe eradication is the correct action.
“Coyotes not only help the ecosystem by eating rodents, insects and smaller mammals, such as skunks, but they also eat carrion as well,” Pomponio said. “Sometimes, on farms, coyotes are blamed for killing an animal, when they are simply feeding on its carcass.”
She points out that coyotes are America’s native “song dogs” because they are extremely vocal, they are highly intelligent and usually mate for life.
“A small coyote family of two to four will protect a territory of several miles from other coyotes, foxes and dogs,” Pomponio said.
“If left alone, the alpha male and female will breed only once a year and their pups disperse to other areas when they mature. But if residents of Bradenton and Cortez kill members of their coyote family, transient coyotes will move into the territory, breed more and have far more pups.”
Once an established small family of coyotes has “learned” that humans are off-limits through hazing, it is better to leave them alone than to kill them and have to re-train newcomers, Pomponio said.
The city of Denver did just that, making a successful effort several years ago to retrain its coyotes rather than kill them, Pomponio said.
Focused on “re-wilding,” volunteers blew whistles and banged pots and pans to make coyotes scared of people again.
“It is also worth checking out if people in some Manatee subdivisions are feeding the pups scraps and encouraging them,” Pomponio said.
For more information, go to www.projectcoyote.com.
Too smart to trap
As for trapping the coyotes, Sweetman-Carpenter is learning that’s easier said than done.
It takes a special permit in Florida to use foot-hold traps and other so called “steel” traps that are effective in trapping coyotes, but are considered inhumane, said St. Petersburg wildlife trapper David Lueck.
Florida allows only mesh snares and large cage traps that are not so successful, given the intelligence of the coyote, Lueck added.
“It’s almost impossible to get a coyote to walk into a live cage trap,” Lueck said. “The best way to trap them is with a steel foot-hold trap, which is outlawed except by a permit that requires special circumstances.”
It is against the law to shoot a coyote in city limits or poison them.
Lueck says coyotes make up less than 1 percent of his trapping business.
“I have not been able to trap a coyote this year at all,” he said.
He charges $145 to set up the live cage trap and $90 every time he goes out to check it or re-bait it. But, usually, the coyotes are just too smart to be trapped, he said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.