A silhouetted coyote howling at the moon is an iconic symbol of the wild American West. Coyotes play an important ecological role by controlling rabbit and small mammal populations. They are opportunistic predators that also eat fruits, insects, and food discarded by humans.
Over-abundant coyote populations in proximity to human settlements can lead to several public health concerns. Coyotes can be carriers of canine distemper, parvovirus, rabies, and mange. These diseases can be transmitted from coyotes to pets (particularly canines). Coyotes can also transmit rabies and mange to humans. While rabies is not currently a problem at Fort Irwin, coyotes infected with mange can be seen in cantonment. Mange is caused by microscopic, parasitic mites in the skin or hair follicles, resulting in severe itching. Intense scratching or chewing results in the loss of large patches of fur and secondary skin infections may result in complete loss of fur. Calls about sick coyotes often increase during the winter as coyotes weakened by mange succumb to increased stress associated with colder temperatures.
A frequently asked question is: “Can we help the sick coyotes by treating them for mange infection?” The answer is yes – mange is very treatable. However, treatment presents two challenges: 1) Every infected animal in the population (as well as bedding areas) must be treated simultaneously 2) If one source of mange infection is missed, the cycle continues and cured animals are re-infected. Additionally, multiple treatments are required. This makes successful treatment impractical.
The natural instinct of most wild animals, both prey animals and predators such as coyotes, is to avoid contact with humans. Coyotes are naturally curious and often observe human activity from a safe distance. When behaving “normally” they will usually run away if confronted by humans. Most coyotes maintain this normal behavior even when living in urban areas. However, coyotes can become aggressive when their natural behavior is impacted by humans. Most attacks on humans or pets by coyotes follow intentional feeding of a coyote by a person. People who feed coyotes may think they are being kind, especially when they see a skinny coyote suffering from mange. Remember, it is not only unwise to feed a coyote, it is against the law. State and county laws, as well as Army regulations, prohibit intentional feeding of wild predators.
So, how can we minimize negative interactions between humans and coyotes? A community effort is required. First, neighborhoods and work places should eliminate supplemental food sources by: not leaving pet food or water outdoors; not throwing bird seed on the ground where it can attract small mammals; removing fruit and berries that fall from trees or shrubs, and; keeping garbage and compost in coyote-proof containers. Other strategies include: limiting shelter sites by trimming shrubs, removing woodpiles, and covering access points under buildings, and; re-instilling a natural fear of humans when in proximity by clapping your hands, stomping your feet, and yelling.
If you have questions about policies on coyotes, predator control (hunting), or other wildlife issues call the Environmental Division for Directorate of Public Works at 380-2681. To request emergency assistance with wildlife issues after business hours call the military police at 380-1258 for issues in cantonment or Range Operations, 380-3878, for issues in training areas.