City Continues Educating Public On Coyotes For Safe Co-Existence

by SC Reporter Reanna Haase

Coyotes have been living among us since the first one was sighted in February 2011 on the edge of a mangrove shoreline in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Subsequently, the city has been educating the public on how to safely co-exist with them, as well as gain an understanding of their impact on the island’s wildlife ecosystem.

Coyotes are captured on camera by resident Robert Brooks as they roam in the early morning hours.

Director of Natural Resources Holly Milbrandt said while they do not know much about them or their role on Sanibel, they have found ways to monitor the coyotes. The city installed cameras on various park trails, which captured 183 coyote images last year. And there were 83 citizen-reported sightings.

“We can definitely see from our camera images they are in our conservation lands, walking on trails. From the reports we get, we know citizens encounter them sometimes in their residential neighborhoods as they are out and about on the island,” Milbrandt said. “Other than that, we just do not have a great sense of how they are using Sanibel.”

She told city council members last month it is difficult to know if the coyote population is growing, stable or decreasing. “I think there is something to be said from the (camera) data, that it varies from time to time, but we have to use some caution in looking at absolute numbers,” Milbrandt said.

She explained the camera data can vary from year to year in part because they need maintenance, go offline, and occasionally more or less of them are in operation.

Coyotes seem to prefer roaming paths with the least resistance, which is why they tend to be active between dusk and dawn, when 83 percent of the 183 images were captured on the city’s cameras last year.

Their roaming on conservation land have caused a disturbance to some of the native species. The Loggerhead Sea Turtles are a protected species and when the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation saw a 10 percent depredation of the Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtle nests, they decided to devise a plan to keep the coyotes from preying on the eggs.

“One of the approaches is to install a screening material on top of the nests and that in a lot of cases has proven to be fairly effective in keeping coyotes out,” Milbrandt said. “This still allows the hatchlings to get out but keeps the coyotes from digging up the nest.”

SCCF continues to closely monitor sea turtle nesting sites and Milbrandt said if the depredation of the nests were to resume then they would re-evaluate and produce a new solution. However, the coyote’s adaptive nature has helped with other issues.

“On our wildlife cameras we do capture images I think are more encouraging, like a coyote with an iguana,” Milbrandt said. “So, they are doing some natural work to some things I know folks sometimes find a nuisance.”

Milbrandt said coyotes also seem to be interested in residential areas and advise people to monitor their pets. The biggest threat they pose is to unattended pets, not humans. To help keep coyotes out of neighborhoods, the city aims to educate citizens on a process called hazing if they ever encounter a coyote.

“Making sure the coyote does not feel comfortable in an area we do not want coyotes…that is the process of hazing – waving your arms, potentially throwing objects, being loud,” Milbrandt said. “If a coyote goes ‘every time I get next to a human, that human is trying to get me to move away, then well maybe I will just stay away.’”

While there are not any definite answers to how coyotes arrived here, Milbrandt said they have been slowly traveling farther east across the United States over time and when they reached Florida, it was just a matter of time before they reached Sanibel.

“We get that question a lot, ‘How did they get here?’ Well, there are plenty of options available to them and certainly walking over the causeway is not out of the question. Swimming across Pine Island Sound and island hopping is (also) not out of the question,” Milbrandt said.

If a resident spots a coyote, the city encourages them to call the non-emergency police number 239-472-3111.

In addition to the cameras and citizen sightings, a website dedicated to coyote reporting and education was authorized in September 2019 by city council and is 90 percent complete. Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith said in last month’s council meeting the website and educating the public have been a great start and the city needs to continue on that path.

“Certainly safety is a concern for all of us,” Smith said in the council meeting. “We have not found there is a verifiable reason we are unsafe in sharing of our habitat with humans and coyotes.”

Until the dedicated website is finished, more can be learned about the behavior of coyotes and coyote management practices at the city’s website.

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