2018-03-01 / Front Page

OK, Who is Still Feeding the Coyotes?

By Jocelyn O'Neil


“You can’t kill them off. If you kill one, another one will come and take its spot.”­– Roland Bellotti “You can’t kill them off. If you kill one, another one will come and take its spot.”­– Roland Bellotti “I can't stress enough that people are ruining these animals by feeding them,” said Roland Bellotti. And if anyone knows what to do about the coyotes, it's Bellotti.

For more than forty years, he has been hunting on Aquidneck Island. In the last decade, each of the municipalities has tasked him with eradicating, or at least managing, the problematic growing coyote population, to no avail.

“You can’t kill them off,” said Bellotti. “If you kill one, another one will come and take its spot.”

Bellotti says the heart of the problem is feeding. Whether through intentional means or by being irresponsible with items that entice the coyotes, including trash and pet food, the cause is clear.

"By feeding the coyotes, you're making the problem 100 times worse," said Bellotti.

Coyotes became residents of the Narragansett Bay islands in the mid-1990s and soon after became a problem. In 2004, Numi Mitchell, Ph.D. founded the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study (NBCS), in an attempt to use science-backed strategies to coexist with and manage the coyote population.

“I have learned a lot from Roland [Bellotti] in the field,” Mitchell said. “…we are both hunters in our own way.”

She continued, "Our data supports what he’s learned as a hunter all these years. You’ve got to attack the root problem, which is the food attractants," she said. "[Coyotes] will frequent places that have a consistent food source.

"'Cliff the Coyote' became habituated because he was receiving food in the area that he was always sighted in, in Newport,” said Mitchell, referring to the coyote who in 2016 became somewhat of a local celebrity. "If you look at our sightings map, that area is still the problem," she said.


“It's my opinion that someone in that area is still feeding…People may have a kind heart and think that they're doing the coyote a favor by feeding it." –Numi Mitchell “It's my opinion that someone in that area is still feeding…People may have a kind heart and think that they're doing the coyote a favor by feeding it." –Numi Mitchell The sightings map Mitchell refers to is the “Coyote Sighting Map” put out by the NCBS. Since its mid-January update, NBCS has had 80 new reports, 30 of which have already been posted. (Feb. 9, Newportnow.com, NTW Staff).The map contains the last 1,000 sightings submitted to the NBCS between April 2016 and mid-February 2018. Mitchell hopes this map with its new data will help illustrate to residents where the coyotes are congregating, so the community will be better able to address the problem.

Despite a statewide no-feeding ordinance, which prohibits the intentional feeding or providing in any manner an attractant to coyotes, Mitchell says, “It's my opinion that someone in that area is still feeding… People may have a kind heart and think that they're doing the coyote a favor by feeding it."

The problem with coyotes, she said, is that they will eat virtually anything, including bird seed, domesticated animals and their food, and even trash.

In spite of the resources poured into educating the public, misinformation is still prevalent.

Leslie Grimes, a musician who walks dogs in the "off season" months, has never had a coyote encounter. However, the owners of the dogs she walks have all given her directions and advice on what to do if she ever does, on a dog walk.

"Some owners have requested that I not walk their dog at night because of the coyotes," said Grimes. "Even though I have never encountered one, I assumed the chance of a coyote encounter was greater at night.”

Grimes believed coyotes were strictly nocturnal and that seeing one in the daytime meant it was "sick."

“If they're out in the day I would think they were rabid," she said.

But the RI Department of Environmental Management’s website tells us that coyotes with young do forage for food in daylight hours.

Grimes said that if she came upon one, she would “try to walk away quickly, without engaging with it,” she said, evidence that another myth is pervasive, that one shouldn’t engage with a coyote during an encounter.

But according to the website of The Conservation Agency, a scientific not-for-profit organization based on Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay, “If you see a coyote failing to run when you appear, pick up anything handy and throw it. Yell, curse, go crazy, but make sure that [the] coyote knows it is not supposed to be around in ‘human territory.’ Coyotes are very intelligent animals that will get the message to avoid people as quickly as they get the wrong message that people are going to feed them.”

Yelling at a coyote, waving your arms and even throwing small objects at it is called “hazing.”

Mitchell says the animal control officers in Jamestown and Aquidneck Island have been a good resource for educating the public about the root cause of the coyote problem.

Erin Patel, the animal control officer for Middletown, has seen some residents unintentionally feeding the coyotes with their own chickens.

"I'll get a call about a coyote that's getting too close or aggressive," said Patel, "but when I visit the residence, there are chickens all over the yard! It's the equivalent of take-out for the coyotes."

Patel believes that until the people who are intentionally feeding the coyotes are stopped, or the public all get on the same page, the problem will "only get worse."

She added, "The public has to be a part of the solution.”

To report a sighting for inclusion on the map, complete a Coyote Sighting Report Form. The form and map are available through these websites: theconservationagency.org/coyote and coyotesmarts.org.

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