City Still Watching Coyotes; Considers Future Steps

This video shows coyotes on a bridge between the 5th and 6th holes of The Sanctuary Golf Course in 2017. Provided by Kyle Sweet, Sanctuary Golf Course Superintendent

SC Staff Report

The photo by Erwin Kraus

Wildlife officers and naturalists saw it coming. In February 2011 they got their confirmation when they saw the first photographic evidence of a coyote on Sanibel Island.

Ever since that day when photographer Erwin Kraus pointed his camera at a coyote on the ‘Ding’ Darling NWR, coyotes have been watched, and not just casually. The Sanibel City Council received two presentations on coyotes at its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6, from Angeline Scotten, senior wildlife assistance biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Holly Milbrandt, environmental biologist for the Sanibel Department of Natural Resources.

The presentations came after recent reports of human encounters with coyotes. Councilman Jason Maughan said the number one priority should be the safety of citizens. “While we study the data, citizens should never be terrified,” he said. “I think it is very important to take the concerns of citizens as a real issue.”

Scotten’s presentation included an overview of a Coyote Management Plan implemented by Atlantic Beach, a city on the state’s east coast. She reported the city’s “yard audit,” a program with trained volunteers working with residents to eliminate attractants on private properties, has been successful in resolving conflicts with coyotes in that community.

Council requested the Coyote Working Group, a consortium of top level officials from the city, the ‘Ding’ Darling refuge, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, some of whom were in attendance at the Council meeting, to draft a Coyote Management Plan.

“Coyotes are considered a naturalized species, which means they naturally migrated to Florida without the assistance of humans,” Scotten said.

Coyotes inhabited the Southeastern United States as long as 2 million years ago, but disappeared from that area in the last glacial period about 12,000 years ago. That left the Eastern U.S. to the red wolf, but human expansion and culling all but wiped out the red wolf. That opened the door for the coyote, which adapts to more different habitats and breeds faster and more often than the wolf. By the 1960s coyotes had crossed the Mississippi River and expanded into the Southeast. Coyotes first found their way into Florida in the Panhandle and by 1983 coyotes were in 18 counties. That number was up to at least 48 counties in 1990 and now coyotes can be found in all 67 Florida counties. In 2013, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission received more coyote calls from Southwest Florida than anywhere else in the state.

No one is sure when the first coyote came to Sanibel, either by swimming or simply walking across the causeway. The first sighting came in 2011 when Kraus captured his now infamous photo of a coyote ambling along the shoreline at ‘Ding’ Darling.

“We think there are a number of ways coyotes arrived here and continue to arrive here,” Milbrandt said.
The city immediately swung into action. It notified the public of the sighting and asked for a call when one was seen. It continued by updating its website with coyote information and began to watch coyotes with wildlife cameras in conjunction with SCCF and ‘Ding’ Darling. That evolved into the Coyote Working Group and the eventual employment of the team of experts from the University of Georgia.

Impetus to get a handle on coyotes here was heightened when it was discovered that coyotes like to plunder sea turtle nests. At its May meeting in 2015, the City Council and the audience at the meeting watched as Milbrandt showed a video of a coyote dining on baby sea turtles. It was a night video that showed the coyote gobbling up hatchlings one-by-one as they emerged from the nest. It left many viewers gasping with disgust.

Raccoons were the main raider of sea turtle nests prior to 2011. Then the coyote took over as the main raider. In 2014, sea turtle nest depredation by mammalian predators reached 33 percent and the coyote was the biggest culprit by far. Since then SCCF’s sea turtle monitoring program has taken steps to fence in the turtle nests and that has worked. Depredation of sea turtle nests in 2016 was 10 percent, which is considered reasonable.

“The number of 33 percent was much higher than what is considered acceptable,” Milbrandt said. “A massive screening effort was implemented in 2015 with SCCF volunteers undertaking the bulk of the work. Eighty-eight percent were screened in 2016 and that was found to be relatively effective with just 6 percent of the nests being depredated.”

Coyotes were seen on the beach less in 2016 than in 2015. The nest screening combined with the nighttime sea turtle tagging patrols seem to be combining to keep coyotes off the beach and away from the nests.

“Night patrols on the beach can significantly reduce coyote depredation. The tagging patrol had an unintended benefit,” Milbrandt told the City Council.

The UGA team discovered through its analysis of coyote scat 27 unique coyotes on Sanibel during December 2015 and January 2016. UGA said that number is likely about 34, which gives the island a coyote density of .38 coyotes per square kilometer. That, UGA said, is in line with densities in other coyote studies. The density estimate might be high since coyotes from other places might come to the island, UGA said.

“We don’t have a good way to know what the population is currently, whether it is expanding or contracting,” said Milbrandt.

The coyote study includes use of cameras. Cameras are running at Community Park, Gulfside City Park, Pond Apple Park, Sanibel Gardens and Bailey Beach. All five cameras routinely recorded passing coyotes with Sanibel Gardens, which went online in 2016, as the busiest camera. Sanibel Gardens had almost 60 sightings, equating to about one sighting every 6.4 days, or about one per week. May, June and July have been the most active months in recent years; however, Milbrandt said there is now a longer term data set than in 2017 when the report was completed.

The cameras generally record one coyote at a time, although sometimes they are seen in pairs and one camera shot at Sanibel Gardens captured three.

“About 75 percent of the images captured by our wildlife cameras are at nighttime, between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.,” Milbrandt said. “If you see more than one coyote together, typically it is a family group.”

UGA said it needed more data to have more accurate results. That could include gathering more scat at off island locations and tagging coyotes. UGA declined to make official recommendations, but it did provide notes on possible management techniques. It advised against widespread or selective culling of the Sanibel coyote herd, saying that it would lead to rapid recolonization.

“Coyotes have the ability to do what is called compensatory reproduction,” explained Director of Natural Resources James Evans. “If the resources are available, they will have larger litter sizes and if they are being culled out of the population, they can increase their reproduction rate to keep in step with those pressures.”

Protect Yourself: How to Haze Coyotes
This short, educational video discusses how to effectively “haze” or deter coyotes. Coyotes in urban areas may learn to tolerate human presence instead of fleeing. Hazing is the process of disturbing an animal’s sense of security so it leaves an area or otherwise changes its behavior. VIEW HERE | Learn more about living with coyotes from the FWC website.

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