The Humane Society of the United States
Donate
    • Share to Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Email
    • Print

March 16, 2011

Coyotes and People: What to Know If You See or Encounter a Coyote

Human-coyote encounters—and coyote attacks—are rare

Adapted from the book Wild Neighbors

  • Attacks on people by coyotes are very rare and are usually preventable through changes in human behavior. Dawn Macheca

An encounter with a coyote in the urban and suburban landscape is a rare event, even where coyotes are found in large numbers. 

These animals are generally nocturnal and seldom seen. You may catch a glimpse of a coyote, however, as she moves from one part of her territory to another in search of prey (usually small mammals such as mice or voles). 

Observing a coyote in this manner (even during the daytime) does not mean that the coyote is sick or aggressive. If the coyote is scared away by your presence, she is exhibiting natural behavior and this should not be cause for concern.

A coyote who does not run away when encountering humans has, most likely, become accustomed or habituated to people. This generally occurs when a coyote has been fed (in the form of handouts, pet food left outside, or unsecured garbage). 

Coyotes who come to depend on these sources of food may begin to approach humans looking for a handout and may begin to exhibit what’s perceived as “too tame” or aggressive behavior. 

When coyotes become habituated, hazing can reinstill the natural fear of humans. Hazing entails using a variety of scare techniques to teach a coyote to regard people as threatening and stay away from them.

Coyote attacks on people

Coyote attacks on people are very rare. More people are killed by errant golf balls and flying champagne corks each year than are bitten by coyotes.

Often, coyote attacks are preventable by modifying human behavior and educating people about ways to prevent habituation. In many human attack incidents, it turns out that the offending coyote was being fed by people. In many other instances, people were bitten while trying to rescue their free-roaming pet from a coyote attack. Less often, people are bitten by cornered coyotes, or even more rarely, rabid coyotes.

There have only been two recorded incidences in the United States and Canada of humans being killed by coyotes. One involved a child in Southern California in the 1980s and the other a 19-year old woman in Nova Scotia in 2009. These events, rare as they are, are serious and warrant serious response.

A coyote who has bitten a person will have to be specifically targeted and removed from the population. Most health departments will mandate testing for rabies, which requires that the offending coyote be killed. Under no circumstances does an attack by an individual coyote warrant killing at large, in an effort to reduce the population or simply ring up the bill on coyotes as an act of retribution.  

Public health concerns

Coyotes, like all warm-blooded animals, may contract rabies. Their close kinship to dogs places coyotes at greater risk where there are populations of unvaccinated domestic dogs. Recent advances in rabies control using oral bait to immunize wild animals without having to capture them have made controlling the spread of rabies in coyotes much more effective.

Resources

» Coyote Hazing Guidelines
» Schedule a Coyote Hazing Training workshop in your community.
» Living with Wild Neighbors in Urban and Suburban Communities: A Guide for Local Leaders gives elected officials and other decision-makers the tools to implement long-lasting, nonlethal solutions to community wildlife conflicts.
» Visit Project Coyote: promoting an educated coexistence between people and coyotes.