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What's Behind The Coyote Attacks In North Texas

Since October, residents in Frisco have reported seven incidents where coyotes attacked humans. The last attack came more than a month after city officials captured an animal suspected in some of the attacks and launched an interactive map to report sightings.

Sam Kieschnick, urban wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, is working with the city of Frisco on the issue. He spoke to us about what they're discovering and what people should do when they encounter an overly-bold coyote.

On the attacks in Frisco: We think that people were feeding the coyotes, intentionally or unintentionally. What I mean by uninentionally is, leaving out trash, tossing out the chicken bones, leaving out pet food.

And other things come to that pet food, too, like rats, feral cats or other critters. Coyotes have predictable behavior.

On what's being done: The city of Frisco is working also with Texas Wildlife Services to remove some of those unhealthy coyotes up there.

"I have to emphasize something: For coyotes to attack a human is inordinately rare. It is very, very uncommon."

I have to emphasize something: For coyotes to attack a human is inordinately rare. It is very, very uncommon. So those are unhealthy coyotes that are doing this, and those kinds have to be removed from the population.

On the rarity of coyote attacks: To be honest with you, I had not heard of a coyote attack on a person in Texas [before now]. So very, very rare. That's not to say that there weren't any, but there weren't any that I knew of.

Part of this goes back to their evolutionary history. They were growing up with wolves, with mountain lions, with bears. So they were never the top predator. They had to live kind of in the margins and be secretive. Their best M.O., their way to survive was to stay out of the site from other critters.

So, they have retained that — they don't like to be seen by people. And normally when you see a coyote in the Metroplex, you'll see the tail of a coyote because it's running off. Normal behavior in coyotes is to be quite secretive and elusive.

On how to react to a coyote: So first of all, if you see a coyote in the Metroplex, you don't have to freak out. That coyote is used to people. It's more of an urbanized coyote.

If it's showing behavior that could be considered bold, if it doesn't run off, then we like to encourage hazing techniques.

By modifying our behaviors — controlling our trash, bringing in pets from outside, responsible pet ownership — we can modify theirs.

Now, hazing sounds like a cruel thing, but what it means is, we clap our hands, we make loud noises — again, it sounds cruel, but it also means picking up an object and throwing it at them. There's a saying: No pain, no gain, with coyotes.

We like to establish these normal behaviors of coyotes [staying on the margins, out of site] and we do that through these hazing techniques. We want to reinstate that fear, the same fear that they had of the bigger critters when they were growing up.  

On coyotes being a keystone speciesThey are important. Coyotes are in that part of the food chain, in the food web where they're eating resources like rats, like rabbits. If coyotes were not here, we would see peaks, large population booms, of rats and rodents.

With a keystone species, you don't know the consequences of losing it until it's too late. 

On avoiding coyote attacks in the future: One of the things that I like to say is, by modifying our behavior, we can modify theirs.

When we change a few of our normal activities — when we control our trash, when we bring in the pets from outside, responsible pet ownership — when we do these things, it's not just good for our pets and good for our neighborhoods . It's good for other wildlife as well.

These interview excerpts were edited for clarity.

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.