Frequently Asked Questions
A lot of mystery surrounds the coyote, their presence in the wild, and their interactions with humans. Here are a few of our frequently asked questions/answers:
Is there an overpopulation of coyotes in Indiana?
- According to Dr. Larry Lehman, Indiana state biologist for fur-bearing animals at the Forest-Wildlife Headquarters, Mitchell, IN, the population of coyotes exploded in the 1970’s, leveled out in the 1980’s, and has remained steady at that level through the year 2000 to present.
- Additionally, as coyotes frequently dig several dens on their territories, getting a proper “count” of the coyote is a difficult task as counting populations of wild canids frequently includes locating the den and estimating litter sizes.
What controls coyote populations?
- Coyotes natural predators were the wolf and cougar. However, there are other natural factors that also keep the population in check. We know that availability of prey (rodents, mice voles, rats, rabbits, squirrels) determines the coyote population within an area. When there is an abundance of prey, litters tend to be larger. When prey is scarce, litters tend to be smaller. Population is also limited by the dispersal of the pups at about 10 months of age. At this time they usually leave their home territories to find territories of their own, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles to do so. Less than 50 percent survive that journey. A combination of hunters, automobiles, distemper, parvo-virus, and starvation (from competition with other migrant coyotes) lead to the majority of these deaths. These factors: hunters, cars, and disease, also impact the natural population within a given home range. Another factor that controls population involves the fertility cycle. Male coyotes, unlike dogs which are fertile year-round, are only fertile once a year. This cycle begins approximately a month before the female coyote comes into estrus in about January. In Indiana, pups are born towards the end of March. Cold weather and snow during the first few weeks of the pup’s life affects their survival rate. During the time immediately following the birth of the pups, the female depends on the male for food, as she does not leave the pups during the first two weeks. If anything happens to the male from the conception of the pups until two weeks after they are born, the pups will generally not survive, as the mother has no source for her own nutrition without the male and therefore cannot take care of the pups.
How do coyotes affect farmers?
- Since coyotes prey on rodents, grasshoppers, insects and other “pests”, farmers can benefit from reduced use of pesticides and poisons to control these pest populations. According to laboratory observations done at Wolf Park, Battle Ground, IN, one captive coyote ate 10,000 mice in a year, . From ICRC’ s experience, a coyote living near the barn killed 11 rats in one 24 hour period. They also help to keep the environment clean by eating carrion, including road kill.
What threats do coyotes present to livestock?
- While some coyotes do prey on lambs and the occasional calf, most do not. If a coyote on a farm is not bothering livestock, the best a rancher can do is leave it alone. This coyote will keep other coyotes that may harm livestock from moving into the area. Coyotes, being predators, will naturally prey on sick or injured animals, be they wild or domestic. However, dogs and cats that are allowed to run loose, or that are dumped in the country and become feral, cause far more damage to both livestock and wildlife than coyotes. Dogs tend to form and hunt in packs and attack larger prey, while in Indiana the coyote usually hunts alone.
- Additionally, while some “problematic” coyotes have preyed on livestock, it is not consistent with the majority of coyote populations. Most livestock is too large for coyotes to expend the amount of energy it takes to bring one down. Furthermore, it has been found that the majority of “kills” reported by ranchers have been unable to determine what species of animal caused the death(as it is rarely witnessed). Also, in some cases, after inspection, it was found the animal was already dead upon consumption. Out west in certain counties, farmers/ranchers have started placing their animals that have passed from natural causes on the perimeter of their property. The coyotes feed off the carcasses, eliminating the cost to dispose of them through a rendering company as well as discouraging the coyotes from entering the premises.
Are coyotes dangerous to people/children?
- All wild animals can be potentially dangerous to humans. While more people are killed each year by domesticated animals such as dogs, livestock, horses, etc., there has always been hype surrounding predators such as the coyote and wolf. Attacks on humans are extremely rare, especially those causing a death. Only twice in recorded history, has a wild coyote caused the death of a human.
- Coyotes are fairly small canids with a natural fear of humans that would discourage them from approaching a full grown man or woman. While they have easily adapted to life among people in urban settings, they are still hesitant to seek contact.
- While children are small and an easier target, coyotes don’t consider humans a food source. Attacks on children are extremely rare as well, and when they have happened, it is usually due to human encouragement through feeding wildlife that causes increased levels of habituation.
How dangerous are coyotes to my dogs and/or cats?
- Coyotes are generally only as dangerous to pets as pet owners “allow” them to be. Coyotes are predators/scavengers and animals that inhabit both rural and urban areas. As such, small dogs and cats left unattended can become potentially endangered by the surrounding wildlife, including coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and fox.
- Dogs and cats as well as other pet animals are not a main source of food for coyotes. If they were, no one would have cats or dogs left as coyotes require a substantial amount of food to survive. While coyotes are opportunistic, which means they will feed on what is easily accessible, if dogs/cats are supervised by their owners, coyotes will not generally approach per their natural fear of humans.
- Large and medium sized breeds of dog are very rarely attacked by coyotes as coyotes are fairly small canids. However, small breeds of dog and cats mimic the size of natural prey. Education and responsibility is key to keeping a pet safe from coyotes as well as other wildlife that may cause harm.