Friday, August 04, 2017

TOP STORY >> Coyotes common, mostly harmless

Coming across a coyote may be jolting, but the wild dogs are common – and relatively harmless – everywhere from Central America to the Arctic. That includes Arkansas, and there have been several sightings recently in Jacksonville.

Sherri Mattocks of Jacksonville contacted The Leader recently to report coyote sightings at First Presbyterian Church on Crestview Street, at the James Street overpass, one down the road near Cooper Dentistry and one on Vine Street.

Coyotes generally run away if they see someone, said Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Keith Stephens.

“Coyotes are afraid of humans. They are very nervous around people. Small pets could be a target, but that’s a rare occurrence. When you let your smaller pets outside, just keep an eye on them. Keep your pets in a fenced area,” he said.

Coyotes come to urban areas because of the ample food sources like dumpsters, garbage cans and, occasionally, maybe some dog and cat food.

Coyotes probably have dens in wooded areas in or near towns.

Stephens emphasized that coyotes are not aggressive toward people but can spread diseases. He also noted that coyotes thrive in New York City, the most populated city in the United States.

“Attacks on humans are rare. I can’t remember hearing of a single incident in the 16 years I’ve worked at (AGFC), but it could happen if you got too close. As with any wild animal, just stay away from them. They will get into trash looking for an easy meal, so keep your garbage in a closed receptacle. Don’t feed your pets outside. Keep your pet food in a closed container,” he said.

“I make sure to carry protection with me now. It just really concerns me that someone is going to get hurt or Fluffy isn’t going to make it home one day. The way one was watching me, or my little dog, it wasn’t concerned to see a human. The coyote is beautiful to look at, but I would just rather not have such a close up,” Mattocks said.

Mattocks said she emailed Mayor Gary Fletcher and asked him to issue a public alert. She said he did not reply.

Mattocks said neighbors are detailing their encounters with coyotes on Nextdoor, a social media app.

“A mother did post how her daughter was chased earlier this summer by one as she was walking from Stonewall toward Collenwood to get to the high school,” Mattocks said.

“I would just like everyone to be safe out walking and take precautions with their pets,” she said.

She also said a relative spotted two more on the other side of town.

Jacksonville Animal Services often receives calls from residents about coyote sightings. Two department employees said they do not track or record where the sightings occur and that they are not ordinarily a nuisance and don’t endanger anyone.

Stephens said if coyotes are persistently causing problems, residents may call nuisance wildlife control companies in the area.

Most times coyotes will flee when they see people. “Make some noise and they will run off,” Stephens said.

“It’s not unusual to see them in an urban setting. There are plenty of food sources in a city. Leave them alone. They can spread disease such as distemper or rabies,” Stephens said.

Distemper is a virus that affects dogs’ gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous systems.

Stephens said the state’s coyote hunting season opened July 1 and runs through Feb. 28. Coyote trapping season started Tuesday and runs through March 31. Coyotes are prized for their fur.

Hunting is not allowed in city limits and trappers are advised to check with local authorities about trapping rules.