Coyotes make themselves at home in Richmond
Apr. 14, 2017
Kira Siddall was shocked earlier this week to discover the dog-like creature she spotted in her South Richmond yard was a coyote.
"Our dog has been weird all week," Siddall said. "She’s been growling at the fence, at the woods."
Later, neighbors in her Westlake Hills neighborhood saw the animal snacking on a deer in an abandoned lot across from her home.
Last summer, a small dog was attacked and killed by two coyotes across from James River Park near Riverside Drive, according to its owners. Siddall worries her dogs could be next.
She called Animal Control, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. But neither agency could do, well, anything.
Coyotes, which migrated here from the Midwest, have adapted well to city life, and can be found in every city and county in Virginia, according to the state department. They are still considered nuisance creatures and can be hunted year-round, but there are restrictions against firing a gun in the city and killing animals on others' property.
"What do you do?" Siddall said.
Anne Wright, assistant professor of biology at Virginia Commonwealth University, said there is not much that can, or should, be done.
"They really provide good function for us in an urban setting," Wright said. "We have too many Canada geese, deer and rats, all of which coyotes eat."
Plus, she said, if they are captured and relocated, or killed, more coyotes would move into the neighborhood and quickly repopulate the area.
"It’s kind of like a whack-a-mole sort of thing," Wright said.
Last summer, officials at the James River Park confirmed that a pair of coyotes were living in the roughly 600-acre park that encompasses areas on both sides of the river. Wright spearheaded the Science in the Park program, which installed cameras throughout the park to capture all kinds of urban wildlife, including coyotes.
The cameras mostly capture the coyotes moving through the park, Wright said. It's more likely that they live on the fringes of neighborhoods, like storm drains or abandoned properties, she said.
A video captured by one of Siddall's neighbors showed the animal, a black, shaggy creature, trotted in a yard. Wright said it didn't appear to be a full-blooded coyote — which are typically lighter in color, shaggier and smaller in size than a dog or wolf — but could be a coyote-dog hybrid, often called coy dogs.
If you cross paths with one of the animals: "Stand your ground and make a lot of noise," Wright said. "They are not generally looking for a fight."
Humans often create a problem for themselves, Wright said, by leaving food, water or garbage out. That's inviting the animal in, she said.
"It's for humans to change their habits and learn to live with the animals," Wright said. "We need to make the change. They're wild. The same goes for any wildlife — deer, raccoons — no one wants them either."
If a coyote becomes a problem, though, Wright added, it should be eliminated.