Coyote sightings are on the rise in Manatee. Here’s what you need to know

More and more, photos of coyotes are appearing on local social media sites as sightings appear to be on the rise.

Is the coyote population in Manatee County growing, or is it that the current housing boom is encroaching on more of the coyote’s natural habitat?

The answer is probably both but without hard numbers it’s difficult to say for sure, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Melody Kilborn.

Coyotes first made their way into Florida in the 1920s as the coyote population exploded with the over-hunting of many of its natural predators such as the wolf, mountain lion and others. Originally mostly located in the west, coyotes began a massive expansion to the east. By the 1980s they were being spotted in 18 Florida counties and now have a presence in all 67 counties.

It’s safe to assume that if the coyote population grew that much and that fast in Florida since the 1980s, the population is continuing to grow.

However, there is little known about the overall population, with estimates ranging between 13,000 and 70,000. The FWC doesn’t have a program that counts coyotes and ultimately tracks reported sightings as a guideline, but Kilborn said those numbers can be misleading because not everyone reports a sighting and the hotline also is used by people seeking information about coyotes.

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But those on the ground are noticing a difference.

“There is a definite influx,” said Noel Hanson, owner of Animal Rangers, a nuisance animal removal company that operates on both sides of the state. “There does seem to be an increase in activity.”

Hanson said he’s seen it across the state, particularly in areas where there is a feral cat problem.

“It becomes an abundant food source,” Hanson said. “It’s an epidemic across Florida because feral cat advocacy groups push to change ordinances, putting a protection status on feral cats which now have a higher protection level than some Florida native wildlife.”

Hanson said cats and muscovy ducks are preferred prey in urban areas of the state, but coyotes are certainly known to attack and kill small dogs when the opportunity presents itself.

On Nov. 1, Kristie Young arrived to her Bayshore Gardens home to find her four miniature pinchers dead. Wildlife experts concluded a coyote had climbed the fence and attacked the dogs. It’s a not a new problem. In 2011, a dog was fatally bitten in the Bay Lakes Estates subdivision off Cortez Road.

Hearing a coyote in the distance is not an uncommon thing in Manatee County, but seeing them more often than usual seems to indicate the overall presence of coyotes is “rapidly increasing,” Hanson said.

Recently, social media sites in Bradenton have posted photos of sightings, including one of a coyote standing atop a fence and yet another of a coyote relaxing on someone’s front porch. Kilborn said it’s difficult to pinpoint if the population is increasing.

“There are a number of factors that may be affecting their movement,” Kilborn said. “They certainly have a mating season and weather can affect their movement. There’s no way to provide an exact answer to why they are being seen more and it might be that people are just taking more notice.”

News reports on pet attacks across the state seem to be pacing the recent rise of sightings. Manatee County spokesman Nick Azzara said park rangers haven’t noticed an increase within the preserves, “But it’s not uncommon to see them in and around our neighborhoods, especially newer neighborhoods that are located near wooded or rural areas.”

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With the recent development boom in Manatee County, Kilborn said, “It’s always possible development will cause more encounters as humans encroach on their environment, but coyotes can be found in urban, suburban and rural areas, as they are very well adapted to any environment. There are many different factors that can affect why people are seeing coyotes more often, but there is no way of knowing for sure.”

Kilborn said coyotes also are naturally curious animals, but, “generally keep a safe distance.”

Hanson said development can be a factor, but the bottom line is more people typically means more food opportunities.

“Development could be a factor,” he said. “But really, it’s always a food source thing.”

A coyote’s range is as unpredictable as the overall estimated population numbers. They can stay within 1,500 acres or roam around 12,000 acres depending on the availability of food and other factors. Their diet varies from insects, fruit, a variety of wildlife, carrion, people’s trash, and unfortunately pets at times.

Late winter is their mating season and the parents will care for the pups for about nine months before they leave to find their own territory.

That new territory could be the backyards of a neighborhood that presents it with a food source. Here’s what FWC recommends.

  • If encountering a coyote, wave arms and yell loudly and continue until the animal leaves the area..

  • Noisemakers such as air horns or banging pots and pans together is an effective deterrent.

  • The FWC recommends throwing small stones or sticks, if necessary, but nothing to hurt the animal.

  • Never run from a coyote, as it may trigger its predator/prey instinct.

  • Keep pets indoors whenever possible, particularly cats and small dogs. Walk small dogs on a short leash as it only takes seconds for a coyote to ambush and kill a pet.

  • If pets are in a fenced yard, ensure it is at least 6 feet high and secure pet food, as well as trash in animal proof containers with lids.

  • Never feed a coyote.

  • Close off crawl spaces under homes, sheds and patios.

To report a nuisance coyote encounter, call the FWC wildlife alert number at 800-404-3922. FWC acknowledges on its website that, “Encounters between people and coyotes in Florida are occurring more often. As coyotes become used to people, they may lose some fear of people, so sightings of coyotes during the day may increase.”

While “several” pet attacks have occurred in recent years — even with humans present — FWC reports there has never been a reported attack on a human by a coyote in Florida. There have only been two recorded human deaths by coyotes throughout history, according to the Humane Society. Though bites also are rare, they have occurred, but mostly when humans were trying to rescue their pets.

Hunting coyotes is legal if licensed and trappers are authorized to capture and safely remove them from an area. For more information, call the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services at 866-487-3297.