With coyote sightings on the rise, here’s what to do if you encounter one

Coyotes are not native to North Carolina, and were first formally documented in Mecklenburg County in December 1995.
Coyotes are not native to North Carolina, and were first formally documented in Mecklenburg County in December 1995. Observer file photo

Coyote sightings keep cropping up in the area, with reports of missing, injured or dead pets stretching from south Charlotte to the University area and Union County.

And the wily coyotes have practically become a mainstay on some social media sites like Nextdoor.

But many people don’t realize that coyotes become more active in the spring because it’s breeding season, said Chris Matthews, division director for nature preserves and natural resources at Mecklenburg County Park and Rec. That means people see coyotes more often as the animals look to find a place to have their young.

“Coyotes exist everywhere in the county, even in uptown Charlotte,” Matthews said. “People should not be surprised to see a coyote anytime day or night.”

Their eyes were glowing out of the woods.

Michelle Blair

Coyotes are transient, and ultimately will move on, he added.

Matthews said there’s no evidence to suggest that the coyote population is on the rise. “It’s just one of those things this time of year there’s a lot more activity.”

‘Something wrong’

In February, a German Shepherd therapy dog was attacked by coyotes in its backyard in Weddington. A GoFundMe page to raise money for surgeries to help the dog walk again has already raised more than $10,000.

Last month, coyote sightings ranged from Interstate 77 N. near Sunset Road, alongside a creek in Matthews and behind a Cornelius cul-de-sac, county records show.

Then there’s Michelle Blair, who lives near W.T. Harris Boulevard and Reedy Creek Park in Charlotte. She said she had a cat that went missing after it had gone outside. She got another cat, and it disappeared, as did a third one.

“After three cats I was like, something’s wrong,” Blair said, and concluded that coyotes had gotten them.

In fact, she was startled to see coyotes staring at her from the woods behind her house one night in January. She counted as many as 10, adding, “their eyes were glowing out of the woods.”

Blair said she had seen other dead animals around, including rabbits. She got so frustrated she wanted to shoot the coyotes but said by that point they had moved on.

And shooting them would have been against the law. Matthews stressed that it is illegal to shoot coyotes within the city limits of Charlotte, and any other area with a gun ordinance that restricts such activity, which includes much of Mecklenburg County.

Seeking a trapper

Last year, Tega Cay, S.C., officials kept hearing from residents about coyote sightings and even had to bat down false rumors that the state brought in coyotes to thin out the deer population, City Manager Charlie Funderburk said.

They held a public forum and put information on the city website about coyotes.

But the calls and emails continued. “A lot of people were scared that their child might be attacked by a coyote,” Funderburk said, even though coyotes are generally scared of humans.

City council reached the point where it agreed to spend $1,400 and hire a professional licensed trapper for two weeks in February. Four coyotes were trapped and put down in a humane way, according to Funderburk.

But that didn’t stop council members from getting 80 emails in one day from around the country protesting the move in what Funderburk thinks might have been a coordinated effort by an animal rights group.

The calls and emails about coyote sightings in the city have decreased, he said, and it’s unclear whether the city will use a trapper again, Funderburk said.

“The biggest thing we learned is if the coyotes feel comfortable they’ll hang out. If their area is being threatened they’ll find somewhere else to be.”

10 tips

If you see coyotes, officials say:

▪ Keep your distance.

▪ Back away slowly while yelling and waving your arms. In some cases, throwing rocks or sticks might be effective. Don’t run.

▪ Call 911 only if your life is in danger or you are being threatened by coyotes or other animals.

▪ Keep dogs on leashes when walking them, as coyotes are much less likely to approach if a person is nearby.

▪ Look around your backyard for the animals before you let the dogs out.

▪ Never feed coyotes.

▪ Store trash in covered, heavy-duty animal-proof containers.

▪ Fence off outside animal enclosures and include a top.

▪  Don’t leave pet food and water out at night.

▪  Make sure pets’ rabies vaccination are up to date. If they come into contact with a wild animal the vaccination will save its life.

Adam Bell: 704-358-5696, @abell