For many of us in Central Westchester (and further south), our strongest associations with coyotes have likely been an image of one howling, silhouetted in front of the moon, or a wily cartoon character—until, that is, a rash of seemingly out-of-nowhere local news stories about coyotes in our midst.
You’ve heard the reports citing attacks on household pets—like the fatal, three-on-one assault on Roxy, a Chihuahua-Terrier mix, in her owner’s Mount Kisco backyard in August—and the similar danger these not-so-cartoonish wild animals pose to small children. Westchester residents are definitely on higher alert than in the past, but the question is: Is there actually an increased coyote threat in the County?
Maybe. Jim Dreisacker, owner of Brewster, New York-based Westchester Wildlife, which specializes in residential and commercial unwanted-animal removal, has noted a slight increase in how many coyote-related calls his company receives. “I average 50 to 100 calls a year with coyote issues, most of which are just sightings,” Jim says. “I’d say it’s definitely increasing. Not two-fold or anything, but maybe five to ten percent a year.”
“With all the building going on, there’s loss of habitat,” Dreisacker adds. “Just lately, it seems like they’re up in numbers.” That doesn’t mean all of these “new” pack members (or solo agents, for that matter) are dangerous. Dreisacker equates coyote behavior to that of any other species of animal: Individuals have their own personalities. One coyote might sniff your unsuspecting pooch and wander off. Another? Maybe not so friendly.
Dreisacker has been tracking coyotes for decades, and helped track them as part of a 2008 study conducted by Cornell University and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). He notes their high mortality rates associated with run-ins with cars or accidental ingestion of poisonous matter; so one “problem” coyote—one that might attack a domestic animal—may disappear before environmental, professional, or police intervention is required.
Until then, if you’ve heard of a potential predator in your area, try not to leave your animals (or young children) unattended, and, if you see a coyote, do as the DEC says and make loud noises and wave your arms to scare it off.