2017-09-21 / Around Town

Local Coyotes Bolder, Feeding at Fault

By Brooke Constance White

When people start feeding coyotes, the fear barrier is broken and they will keep returning to the food source. (File photo) When people start feeding coyotes, the fear barrier is broken and they will keep returning to the food source. (File photo) Cliff the Coyote isn’t back, but some of his buddies are.

According to Newport Police, there have been reports of coyotes in and around Braga Park for the last couple of weeks. Witnesses have observed the coyotes lounging in the open and near dwellings, displaying no fear of humans. Police say the coyotes have easy access to food sources in the area and people are feeding them, which is against town ordinance and state law.

Sergeant Joseph Carroll, a public affairs officer for the department, said police have not received any complaints that the coyotes are being aggressive, but that if an incident occurs where a person feels threatened, they should make loud noises to scare the coyotes away.

“We are actively monitoring the issue and taking input from the community so we can determine what needs to be done,” Carroll said during a Sept. 13 phone call. “If an interaction gets aggressive, the police should be called.”

The department has been working closely with experts like Numi Mitchell at the Jamestown-based Conservation Agency, which has been studying the coyote phenomenon since 2004.

Mitchell, lead scientist of the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study, reinforced the Newport Police Department’s sentiment: the basic issues in Newport are easy access to food, as there are a number of restaurants with dumpsters, and that some residents feed coyotes or tolerate them hanging around.

The island has few animals for coyotes to hunt because it’s mostly urban, Mitchell said. But when people start feeding the coyotes, the fear barrier is broken and they will keep returning to the food source.

“It could get you into situations where the coyotes, which are wild animals, obviously don’t draw the line between steak or chicken bones and small pets,” she said. “When a coyote is fed by residents, it becomes trained by reward, similar to when a dog is being trained.”

Based on data from several GPS collars, Mitchell said this recent pack is likely Cliff’s, the coyote that reached celebrity status after Middletown police first issued a kill order for him and then Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management relocated him last fall.

Because Newport sees high turnover in seasonal residents and college students, it’s important to continually educate residents on best practices when it comes to handling coyotes, she said. Newport adopted a no-feeding ordinance last year after Cliff was relocated, and now all Aquidneck Island towns are united in this strategy. Mitchell said this collaboration is key since coyotes often roam between towns.

Residents and business owners should also remember to secure dumpster side doors, she added, because coyotes are clever enough to slide these doors open with their paws. Garbage cans need to be closed with bungee cords, and recycling bins should also have a secure lid.

But most importantly, according to Mitchell, the city has to enforce the no-feeding rule and residents must hold each other accountable by communicating with each other and police.

“We really think we can solve these problems with coyotes if we have the cooperation of the community. Many people think they can shoot their way out of the problem,” she said, referring to close call when police nearly shot Cliff before he was relocated. “But it’s been shown that it never works. If you shoot a hole in their territory, a much bigger group of coyotes without a territory will come in and rapidly repopulate the area.”

Based on what police and neighbors have said, the affected neighborhoods stretch from America’s Cup Avenue and First Beach to Green End Pond.

“We’ve got a meeting in the works about dealing with coyotes and what needs to happen to discourage them from coming into our urban community,” Mitchell said. “With the help of everyone, we should be able to solve this problem.”

The Newport Police Department has requested that residents call the station at 401-847-1212 to report coyote sightings or activity.

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