After Cliff, Residents Continue to Interfere with Coyotes
Last fall, Cliff the coyote rose to celebrity status after Middletown police issued a kill order for the animal, and his imminent fate hit headlines across the state. Cliff’s only crime was that he learned to trust humans, after being fed by a household on or near Kay Boulevard in Newport. As residents encouraged Cliff with food, police received complaints that he was approaching humans with growing comfort.
After an online petition circulated across the country, police canceled the kill order and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) relocated Cliff to western Rhode Island.
“We don’t know anything, if he survived or not,” said Numi Mitchell, Ph.D., of the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study (NBCS). “We tried everything to de-habituate him, to put the fear back in him.” Cliff was strongly attached to the pack, often babysitting the young, said Mitchell.
Despite extensive press coverage, there is at least one household once again deliberately feeding coyotes around Kay Boulevard. Not surprisingly, Newport police have been receiving calls about coyotes in the same territory, which are most likely Cliff’s relatives.
Cliff was spared because he was celebrity wildlife, but typically coyotes that approach humans are killed, Mitchell warned. “If you don’t scare them away, you are doing them a disservice. It’s inhumane to feed them.”
In Middletown, an individual with less compassionate intentions set a trap for a coyote.
“That is terribly cruel,” Mitchell said. “Someone has taken matters into their own hands with an illegal trap and not enough experience, since the trap lifted from the ground. Now it has been over a week, this poor animal has been walking around with a steel trap on his foot.”
“As far as we know, the coyote is still out there,” said Middletown Police Lt. Jason Ryan. “The DEM was unable to catch the coyote and render assistance, but every time we receive a call regarding it, DEM is contacted.” Within the past month, Middletown police have received a dozen calls about coyotes, ranging from Green End Avenue and Island Drive to River Run and Evelyn Circle.
Since coyotes came to the area in the mid-1990s, their population growth has caused problems for Aquidneck Island communities. Attempts to reduce numbers by hunting, trapping and poisoning have been unsuccessful.
“It’s very clear the wild, wild West model is not going to work here,” Mitchell said. “Hunting doesn’t work at all.” If a resident pack is removed, it will likely be replaced by transient coyotes, which can become problem animals.
Their reproductive rates are regulated by food competition.
“Coyotes manage their own numbers. With food stress, they decrease their litter sizes,” Mitchell said. Until communities adopt better practices to control available food, the coyote population will probably not subside, she added.
There are three main food sources on Aquidneck Island that keep coyotes well fed: livestock carcasses, deer roadkill and households who feed the animals. In the winter, there is no place to bury dead animals such as livestock or deer, which is also the breeding season for coyotes.
What to do if you see a coyote
Coyotes are most often spotted during the mating season (from January to March) and when the young leave the pack in early fall. If coyotes linger in a yard or approach humans, they should be scared away with loud noises. “Scaring them is kindness,” said Mitchell.
If the leader retreats, the rest of the pack will follow. If the coyote refuses to leave or returns to the area despite repeated hazing, a neighbor may be feeding coyotes. Neighborhoods are encouraged to work together to implement the scaring approach.
Coyotes are naturally skittish animals and nervous around humans, said Mitchell. However, when people leave them food, they evolve into “urban coyotes” and lose their fear of people and come out during the day. That is when residents tend to report coyotes to law enforcement.
Do not attempt to frighten coyotes if they are with small pups. If the coyote appears to be sick or injured, do not approach and call local police or the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife at 401-789-0281.
For more information or to report a coyote sighting, visit coyotesmarts.org or theconservationagency.org.