Coyotes preying on more livestock, pets than before

July 20, 2007 — TCPalm – Florida

By Will Greenlee (Contact)

Local ranchers and law enforcement officials say they’ve seen an increase in coyotes over the past few years.

From a distance, some might think the stealthy creatures resemble a dog, but make no mistake, these four-legged furry guys aren’t man’s best friend.

Coyotes can prey on livestock and pets and even take down a calf, and the local population of the generally nocturnal animals appears to be on the rise, according to a St. Lucie County sheriff’s deputy and ranchers.

"They never used to be here," said Vic Nicholson, who’s been raising cattle for 25 years. "I guess the panthers and wolves used to keep them out but then the panthers kind of got scarce and the wolves are (gone)."

Other than man, nothing preys on coyotes in South Florida, meaning their population will continue to rise, said Pat Ivey, a sheriff’s agricultural deputy who in a recent interview displayed picture after picture of animals killed by coyotes.

Between 2003 and 2004 there was a "significant jump" in coyote visits to baited observation stations throughout the state, totaling 30 visits in 2004, according to Ginger M. Allen, senior biological scientist with the University of Florida’s Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee.

They were introduced to Florida as early as the 1920s for pursuit by hunting dogs.

Some ranchers say they’ve either had calves killed by coyotes or suspect coyotes in deaths.

"He’ll take a calf, grab him by the tail, strip his tail and pull him down and then go to his throat and kill him," Ivey said. "A coyote’s also bad about biting a calf or a grown cow in the back hind quarters and then they’ll wait for her to bleed to death, and then eat her."

Mike Adams, acting president of Adams Ranch, which encompasses 16,000 acres in western St. Lucie County, has a stuffed coyote — shot by a cowboy as it stalked a deer - in his offices. Adams hasn’t had any large problems with coyotes, which he said are difficult to spot.

"They’re a very observant animal and so that makes them so elusive," Adams said. "Seeing them first is unusual."

Coyotes, which weigh 20 to 30 pounds, leave tracks that are more oval-shaped than those of dogs. Also, a coyote’s rear feet are "smaller padded" than its front. They hunt at night and "den up" during the day, Ivey said.

"A coyote doesn’t have a conscience," Nicholson said. "He doesn’t know right from wrong. He just looks at things as, ’Can I eat it or not?’"

The coyote gestation period is about two months and the average litter is six pups, according to a UF study. Along with calves, poultry, hogs and goats, coyotes will eat crops, such as watermelon.

Ivey said ranchers typically don’t report problems with coyotes, preferring just to handle things themselves. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, he said, can issue a depredation permit, which allows coyotes to be called electronically and hunted at night with a gun and light.

"They are super smart, I mean smarter than any deer or anything you’ve ever hunted," Ivey said. "They’re very wily ... real, real skittish."

Ivey suspects coyotes eventually could start moving into more urban areas.

"Somebody’s going to call and report that their cat’s missing or their dog’s missing," he said. "They’re not going to have any idea that a coyote killed it."