By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor
Photos by Jennifer Tuohy
Coyote activity has once again increased on Sullivan’s Islands and concerned residents are reporting sightings to the town with escalating frequency. While there have been no attacks on humans, or confirmed attacks on pets, the increase in “encounters” between humans and coyotes has prompted the Town to put out traps in strategic locations.
“We are using a humane box trap. No leg traps. The trapper says these are not as effective but he’s confident we’ll get one,” Chief of Police Daniel Howard said. “We have two traps out currently and check them every day.”
The trapper was shown the areas where there has been the most reported activity and he determined where to place the traps based on that and other signs of activity. The trapper is not looking for dens or working to eradicate the population “this is more of a management plan,” Howard said.
Coyote activity increased this time last year, and the resulting vocal howls from residents prompted the Town to put in place a policy that allowed trapping when there was a direct threat. There were no incidences however until late last December.
“The police department started getting more calls around Christmas,” Andy Benke, Town Administrator said. “Which is consistent with last year, when it started to taper off again as spring got here. We don’t know why but they seem to disappear in the spring and summer.”
According to research published by Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department, breeding season is February and March, which is why activity increases just before that time, as the animals start to make their den site and mark their territory. Coyotes are monogamous and mate for life.
“[During this time] Coyotes may be more sensitive to people and dogs,” CPW said. “They may display ‘escorting’ behavior, where they watch people or dogs passing through their territory and sometimes trot along nearby as if to escort them along.”
At a recent Sullivan’s Island Public Safety meeting, two residents talked of having been “stalked” by coyotes. This is reflective of their known behavior, except they likely weren’t stalking them for prey, but rather making sure they weren’t going to interfere with their territory. Coyotes do not generally defend their territory outside of mating season, which would explain why the sightings occur in the winter and then die out over the spring and summer.
In the winter, they want us to see them. So while some people may see this increased activity as the coyotes getting ‘bolder’ it is in fact just their natural behavior, and will, as with last year, probably settle down come spring time, when the pups are born.
The incidents of coyotes attacking humans have been rare, however with the spread of the animal across the country in recent years, reports of attacks are increasing. Members of the public at the same Public Safety meeting said they had heard of coyotes killing children, however the last reported incident of a child being killed by a coyote was 35 years ago. Statistically coyotes are far less of a threat than the family dog. The presence of coyotes on our island has not been all bad.
They are doing a very good job of cleaning up the road kill. “Not that we have a lot,” says Chief Howard. “But since the coyotes arrived there’s been none. Zip.”
Additionally, the issue of rat infestations on the island is a well-known one, and while the police don’t generally get reports of rats, Howard said they had received some over the years, but none since the coyotes appeared. Coyotes’ main prey is small rodents such as rats and squirrels. They also eat birds, lizards, snakes, fish, crustaceans and insects, as well as berries, fruit and vegetables, all of which makes Sullivan’s a very attractive spot. However, coyotes will also eat small pets, such as cats and small dogs. They are attracted to dog food and bird feeders, so removing such attractions from your yard will discourage visits. It is best not to leave small pets unattended, as a coyote can jump a six-foot fence.
If you are concerned about coyotes jumping into your yard and don’t want to have to keep your pets inside, a local company might have a solution for you.
Chad Huber, owner of Huber Home Improvements in Hanahan, was commissioned by the Charleston Animal Society to come up with a way to stop the dogs from climbing out of its yards. That project led him to Roll Guard Inc., a company out of California that has developed stainless steel “Coyote Rollers.”
The rollers attach to the top of a fence and prevent a coyote from climbing in, as well as animals inside from climbing out. When a creature tries to jump a fence, it has to grab hold of the top to get over. With Coyote Rollers in place, the animals will fall right off and not be able to jump over.
“They go up and hit the roller and can’t get any traction,” Huber said. “It also keeps squirrels off the top of the fence, and the raccoons too. They are placed right in center, on top of the fence, and can be adapted to any type of fence—wood fence, chainlink fence, aluminum fencing, it will go on to all of it.”
They are most effective on fences 6 feet or higher and come in different colors so can be made to match existing landscaping.
Costing between $14 and $15 a linear foot, they are not cheap, but certainly are more cost effective than building a whole new fence.
The technology has been proven in many animal shelters out West, and the Los Angeles Police Department uses then for its canine kennels. The product is Humane Society approved, as it causes no harm to animals. For more information about the Coyote Rollers call 843.514.6852 or email Huberhomeimprove@gmail.com
“Rollers are fine [on Sullivan’s] as long as the fence doesn’t exceed the height limit,” Andy Benke said. The limit is currently 6 foot.
The issue of fence heights is being considered by the Planning Commission, which is hearing a request to change the current ordinance to 7 foot. The request has been made by a citizen who is concerned about coyotes getting into her back yard. To help the commission understand the issue of coyotes, SCDNR biologist Jay Butfiloski will be attending the commission’s Feb. 11 meeting.
Chief Howard recently attended a seminar on Kiawah where a biologist and DNR representative discussed the issue of coyotes on that island. He said it was very informative.
“Kiawah is pretty much going with the live and let live theory,” he said. “Coyotes are prevalent in all 49 states. Trying to remove them is a difficult task. Whatever we do here, we have also got to learn how to live with them. It’s similar to teaching people how to live with alligators.”
Report all coyote sightings:
The Town of Sullivan’s is requesting its residents report all coyote sightings. This will help in establishing a management plan. Call Consolidated Dispatch on 843.743.7200 and tell them the date, time and location of the sighting along with the number of coyotes.