The Coast News Group
The ‘Coexisting with Coyotes’ exhibit at the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in Escondido. Photo by Steve Horn

Exhibit teaches homeowners to coexist with coyotes

They’re the neighbors of almost everyone who lives in San Diego County, but they’re also the ones nearly everybody loves to hate. And those who love them, too, have some lessons to learn to be good neighbors.

That’s the thrust of the message on display now at an exhibit at the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in Escondido, called “Co-existing With Coyotes.” Showing at the Recreational Reserve’s Interpretive Center, the exhibit’s brainchild is Adena Boxer-Capitano, a retired veterinarian who volunteers as a docent at the Interpretive Center.

Boxer-Capitano decided to get a master’s degree from a program run jointly by the University of Miami-Ohio and San Diego Zoo Global called Project Dragonfly upon retiring as a veterinarian. The exhibit, and all of the research which went along with creating it, helped Boxer-Capitano fulfill obligations toward obtaining her degree.

But Boxer-Capitano said the master’s degree was really just a means to an end for her to gain more knowledge about the vexing canine which is the coyote and then teach the public and neighborhoods throughout San Diego County more about them.

“My master’s degree is focused on research, conservation and education about coyote coexistence,” explained Boxer-Capitano. “Ultimately trying to get communities to formulate their own community coyote coexistence plans since the prevalence of coyotes and potential for conflicts continues to increase.”

As a committed environmental conservationist, Boxer-Capitano’s exhibit says that those who share similar views to her and those who would prefer to see coyotes killed and away from neighborhoods ultimately should come to the same conclusion. That is, despite decades of humans trying to hunt them down, Boxer-Capitano says that the scientific community believes that coyotes are here to stay.

For now, she concludes, it is just a question of how best to coexist with them and not get hurt or hurt one’s pets in the process. That is the logic which undergirds the exhibit.

“This canine is native to North America and its entire evolutionary history is one that shows the remarkable ability to adapt and persist from the Ice Age to the present day,” Boxer-Capitano explained to The Coast News. “Its ancestors survived the Ice Age when so many other animals died off and the present-day coyote is thriving despite decades of relentless persecution to eradicate it.”

Among its survival techniques, explained Boxer-Capitano, is learning from human patterns and staying away from them for their own personal safety. She added that coyotes are interested in humans and their homes not because they are interested in hunting humans in of themselves, but because they see humans as a means to an ends for food they leave behind in their garbage cans, as two-limbed beings who walk dogs they might be interested in having for dinner, as people who grow food such as fruits and vegetables in their backyards which they can have for a meal, etc.

The more those things are done, the more coyotes feel comfortable around humans and their homes, feeling comfortable and habituated around them because — as Boxer-Capitano explained — they begin to think “Oh, maybe humans aren’t so bad after all.”

“These animals are intelligent, clever and resourceful which is how they have managed to survive in our neighborhoods surrounded by humans,” said Boxer-Capitano. “As a result, coyotes are opportunistic feeders. They will eat what is most readily and easily available using the least amount of energy. Pet food left outside, fruit on the ground in our yards, bird seed that attracts rodents and unattended pets (that are all provided by humans) are some of the easiest food of all to obtain.”

Boxer-Capitano also recommended against taking the dog out for a walk during dawn or dusk, which is prime feeding time for coyotes. Both of those time slots also happen to be popular dog-walking times.

Another of the craftier things coyotes do, animals which Boxer-Capitano explained are known as “trickster dogs” by some Native Americans, is use their trademark howls to make it sound like there are more of them there than there actually. They do so as a means of deterring other predatorial threats living amongst them in their ecosystem. The exhibit at the Interpretative Center allows visitors to listen to all of the dozen different sounds coyotes make by using their smartphones as a means to scan QR codes, which bring them to a website which houses the different respective coyote sounds.

Given their craftiness and ability to be hunted down at a rate of one per minute in North American, yet still survive and replicate as a species, coyotes may seem a bit insurmountable for those who fear them or fear their domesticated pets getting eaten for lunch by them. On the flip side of the coin, Boxer-Capitano says that those who think they can just feed or remain peaceful around coyotes are also wrong, because those coyotes who do not fear humans become “problem coyotes.”

“If a coyote is seen in a location in the neighborhood that it does not belong — such as your yard, sidewalks, parks, or playgrounds — every person should help train that coyote that it does not belong there, just like you train your dog to stay off the furniture,” said Boxer-Capitano. “Train the coyotes in your neighborhood to stay in the wild and undeveloped areas and away from people and pets by acting big and loud every time you see them in an inappropriate place. Yell, wave your arms, stomp your feet, use a noise maker or pop open an umbrella or throw objects in the direction (not at) the coyote until it runs away. These strategies, if practiced uniformly by the entire community, have proven to be successful in neighborhoods all over the country.”

The exhibit also pointed to another practical device which homeowners can implant on the top of their backyard fences as a means of keeping coyotes away, called the Coyote Roller. The rolling pin which sits at the top of the fence — which Boxer-Capitano says should be at least six feet tall, because coyotes can clear a fence any lower by jumping over it — is something coyotes would hit and then spin backward upon attempting to leap over a fence line. A conventional fence line, by comparison, is something coyotes could jump up to, claw onto, and then drag themselves over.

For dogs, the exhibit points out, owners can purchase a Coyote Vest. That vest has sharp spikes and can be seen as somewhat analogous to a bulletproof vest for humans. That is, it may not be foolproof, but it is better than having no defense to stave off an attacking coyote.

The “Co-Existing With Coyotes” exhibit will be on display until the end of 2018. After which, Boxer-Capitano explained, her goal is to take the exhibit on a road trip to other stations throughout San Diego County. Because coyotes live throughout the county, she said, she hopes the exhibit can live in various formats throughout it moving forward, as well. She also has created a website titled, appropriately enough, “Coexisting with Coyotes.”

“Our goal is to make this the beginning, not the end, so that we can educate people about coyote co-existence all over the county,” explained Boxer-Capitano. “No matter how you feel about them, co-existence has been proven by scientists as the only long-term solution. We can do that to keep our pets safe, our families safe and keep the coyotes wild and free.”