By Nikki Silverstein
Some residents of Belvedere believe coyotes on the small island have overstayed their welcome, saying the animals have snatched family pets right out of their yards.
Other complaints about the wild canines in the tony enclave include that they roam the streets in packs, stalk people as they walk their dogs and refuse to back off when faced with efforts to scare them away.
There’s talk of shooting the coyotes or relocating them. People are scared the next victim could be a child.
A Belvedere woman said she carries a baseball bat when she leaves the house to fend off a potential coyote attack. Another said she brings a bear horn and portable alarms when she goes for a walk.
Folks in Tiburon have the same concerns as their Belvedere neighbors. Lorraine Gemigniani says the area is unique because it’s a peninsula, and there aren’t any predators to cull the coyote packs.
“I saw a coyote running up Lyford with a cat in his mouth,” Gemigniani said. “It’s gotten crazy. There are too many coyotes, and they are in charge. We need a reprieve from what’s going on.”
While Gemigniani is seeking a solution, she doesn’t advocate killing the coyotes. She said that she has spoken to Tiburon Police Chief Ryan Monaghan about the coyotes and plans on contacting Marin County officials, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Marin Humane, which is responsible for the county’s animal control.
“Ideally, Marin Humane hires a group to tranquilize the coyotes or set some kind of humane traps,” Gemigniani said. “Then they load ’em up and move ’em out of here.”
Gemigniani is aware that relocating coyotes is illegal in California. Ditto for shooting coyotes in urban areas of Marin. However, she wants the state relocation laws changed for the Tiburon Peninsula and Belvedere.
Over the summer, people who frequent Peacock Gap Park in San Rafael felt the same fear and frustration that Belvedere and Tiburon residents are now experiencing. Fortunately, the worry abated at Peacock Gap after the Marin Coyote Coalition, a group formed by Marin Humane, Marin County Parks and Project Coyote, educated park users about coyote behavior.
Coyote sightings at the park, which has a children’s playground, and the adjacent golf course are on the rise. Confrontations were reported, including a coyote biting a dog and coyotes surrounding a child.
Parents thought the coyotes were “coming to get our kids,” according to Gina Farr, a wildlife educator who serves on the advisory board of Project Coyote, a national nonprofit advocating for coexistence between wildlife and humans. Farr says it’s more likely the golf course and its restaurant attracted the coyotes from the nearby open space.
“A golf course is a smorgasbord for coyotes, with its supply of water and gophers,” Farr said in an interview. “The restaurant has a dumpster with food.”
The Marin Coyote Coalition recommended that people at Peacock Gap scare the animals away using a method called hazing. While residents often say the animals aren’t responding to hazing, the Marin Coyote Coalition maintains that it works effectively if the proper techniques are used.
The feedback from Peacock Gap Park visitors has been positive, according to Captain Cindy Machado, director of animal services at Marin Humane.
Hazing starts by making eye contact with the coyote and acting big, bad and loud, Farr said. Take a step forward, wave your arms around, throw sticks toward the coyote, yell and make noise with an air horn or a whistle. Using the element of surprise, such as opening a pop-up umbrella or spraying the coyote with a hose, will frighten them. Most importantly, people must continue hazing until the animal leaves the area.
“The typical scenario is that you scream at a coyote, and it runs 10 feet, then stops and looks at you,” Captain Cindy Machado, director of animal services at Marin Humane, said. “That pattern is what gets the coyotes into trouble. Keep hazing until they get the message.”
Another common misperception is that coyotes stalk and hunt in packs. Coyotes in the west typically hunt solo; however, they may move in a pack if they find an abundant food supply. Farr said she received a report of three to four coyotes repeatedly visiting a Safeway, where she discovered that outdated rotisserie chickens were routinely placed in an open dumpster.
In the late summer and fall, the animals may appear in groups as the coyote parents begin taking their pups, born in the spring, out of the den to prepare them for life on their own. If the parents have never been hazed, neither have the pups, and they may approach people.
“Their curious response could be misinterpreted as assertive and bold,” Machado said.
Like dogs, coyotes are canines. Although they’re very adaptive to the urban environment, humans can shape their behavior.
The best practice for preventing the animals from hanging around humans should go without saying—don’t feed coyotes, intentionally or otherwise, by leaving pet food, water and unsecured garbage cans outside. Fallen fruit in the yard and even bird feeders, if not kept tidy, can also attract coyotes.
“Coyotes aren’t searching out pets or toddlers,” Machado said. “They’re looking for rats, gophers and fruit, but if unattended cats and small dogs are in their pathway, it’s an easy meal.”
Although many Belvedere and Tiburon residents probably aren’t going to gain an appreciation of coyotes anytime soon, some Marin residents are fascinated by the animals.
Native to California, coyotes were in the region long before European colonizers arrived, according to a study, published in 2018, by James W. Hody of North Carolina State University and Roland Kays of North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
In the early 1900s, Marin County hired hunters to kill coyotes, as did livestock ranchers. Yet the intelligent creatures repopulated the area. Coyotes are important to our ecosystem, keeping the rodent population under control.
One coyote can devour 1,800 rodents a year, Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote, told the Pacific Sun in a 2020 interview.
“The Marin Coyote Coalition’s recommendations were developed with hard-core science and years of experience in Marin,” Machado said. “But everyone in the community needs to be on the same page.”
Farr echoes Machado’s sentiments, emphasizing that consistent hazing gives humans power over coyotes.
“If we misunderstand the process, it’s easy to say it doesn’t work,” Farr said. “I’ll bet you right now, it will work.”
The Marin Coyote Coalition’s webinar, ‘Coexisting with Coyotes,’ can be viewed here.