'They're here to stay'

Sheri Kotzum | 315-4353 | @DestinLogSheri |
Catherine Kennedy with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commision gave a presentation on coyotes and how to coexist with them in Destin. [SHERI KOTZUM/THE LOG]

Although Destin residents might have been hoping for a solution to the coyote problem, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission said the animals aren’t going anywhere.

During a presentation at the Destin Community Center on Thursday night, FWC employee Catherine Kennedy explained “the good, the bad and the ugly” of coyotes.

“Coyotes are here, they’re very adaptable and intelligent and they’re here to stay more than likely,” she said.

Kennedy discussed the history and behaviors of coyotes, saying they have been documented in all 67 counties of Florida, including Key Largo.

“They’re incredibly good at adapting and getting to new habitats,” she said. “They’ve even been seen in island communities.”

Some of the benefits to having coyotes around include pest control, as coyotes prey on small animals such as raccoons, possums, mice and rats. But that also means that cats and small dogs can also be at risk.

City Manager Lance Johnson recalled a personal incident involving a coyote three weeks ago while he was walking along Beach Drive with his family.

“I turned around and there was a coyote staring me down,” he said. “But there was a guy with a small, pug-nosed dog and I think it was more interested in the pug-nosed dog than it was in me.”

Kennedy said that humans generally don’t have to worry about being attacked by a coyote, as there have only been two documented cases of fatal coyote attacks in Canada and the United States since 1960.

The concern about coyotes carrying diseases like rabies is also misplaced. Raccoons and cats are far more likely to contract rabies than a coyote. In a study done between 1997-2016, only one rabid coyote was documented. In that same time frame, 1,800 raccoons and 230 cats contracted the disease.

Although Kennedy said that complete eradication of coyotes in the Destin area is not possible, she pointed out a few things that residents can do to help control the problem such as trapping, removing food sources, hazing and securing your pets.

To be trapped, a coyote has to be deemed as an nuisance animal, which is defined as an animal or animals exhibiting behavior that causes (or is about to cause) property damage, presents a threat to public safety, or causes an annoyance within, under or upon a building, according to Florida Administrative Code 68A-9.010. But be aware that steel traps require a permit from the FWC and a trapped coyote will more than likely be killed.

“Nuisance wildlife will be killed because they can’t be relocated alive,” said FWC Officer Andy Maltais. “You cannot transport wildlife, whether it’s a nuisance or not, without a permit in the state of Florida.”

Removing food sources is a critical step towards controlling coyote problems. Kennedy advised residents to clean up pet food, fallen fruit and bird feeders, as well as secure their trash cans.

“Spilled birdseed will attract mice and other rodents, which will attract coyotes,” she said.

Coyote hazing has also been proving to be effective in preventing the animals from habituating, or losing their fear of humans. Hazing involves using deterrents to move an animal out of a certain area or discourage undesirable activity.

“You want to show it that your home and property is your territory and they need to skedaddle when they see a human,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy suggested banging pots and pans, throwing rocks, yelling and other loud methods whenever you see a coyote on your property. Persistence is key, as the coyote may not react the first few times, but Kennedy said to continue being consistent and they will learn to stay away.

For more information about coyotes or trapping options, contact the FWC Northwest Regional Office at 850-265-3676.