On one side, slaughtered chickens and missing family pets; on the other a growing population of coyotes adapting to a merge of civilization and nature.
According to the Pinellas County Animal Services website, there have been over 200 reported Eastern Coyote sightings in Pinellas since 2016.
Animal Services warns, however, that the coyote-sighting map hasn’t been updated in two years because there is not enough room on the already red-marked page.
“Coyotes are found in nearly every county in Florida,” said Michelle Kerr, a public information specialist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in St. Petersburg.
Legislation such as the No Feeding Wildlife Ordinance and the Dog and Cat Leash Law aims to discourage coyotes interacting in populated places. According to the most recent United States Census data, the population of Pinellas County is estimated at 970,637 with a growth rate of 3.31% in the past year.
Regina Buscemi knows about the growing coyote problem firsthand. She recently found herself thrown into the controversy when her guest Susan Marchione’s feline pet, Porch Cat, was found by a neighbor mutilated near Buscemi’s home in Gulfport.
According to Buscemi and Marchione, Porch Cat was found on the early morning of August 9.
The signature way that coyotes are known to leave their unfortunate prey is to tear out the abdominal cavity area and leave the head and hindquarters, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“I was devastated. He was a rescue from Staten Island,” said Marchione. “I’m happy I didn’t have to see what he looked like.”
To avoid the loss of house pets, residents of Pinellas County are advised to keep their animals inside or on a leash at all times.
Owning unleashed and unfenced animals is a violation of Pinellas County Animal Ordinance Sec. 14-63, which reads, “No dog or cat shall run at large within the county.”
Jonathan Harker is another resident who has seen firsthand what the coyote population is capable of.
Harker’s home is across from Hoyt Field, which is located on 56th Street South in Gulfport.
About six months ago Harker walked outside to see a coyote eating one of his chickens. Harker claims that the animal dropped the bird and fled after sighting him, but not before a few of his chickens were killed.
“This was the mangy one everyone keeps seeing,” said Harker, referring to a coyote he says neighbors have also spotted.
Some Gulfport residents are ready for local authorities to take action.
“Obviously something has to be done,” Buscemi said. “The longer we let them eat our small animals the more Gulfport is going to change.”
A Hands-Off Approach
Currently, Pinellas County Animal Services does not come out for coyote sightings, according to Stephanie Coutant, a nature preserve ranger at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Pete.
The general consensus is that the animals have a natural fear of humans, and attacks against people are rare.
Attacks on cats, small dogs and other animals are more common, but not detrimental to the local ecosystem.
According to Coutant, coyotes will naturally have larger litters if they feel threatened. Trapping for relocation, extermination or sterilization will most likely stress the wild coyote population.
“If they experience a large loss they will go from two-, three- and four-puppy litters to five, six and greater,” said Coutant.
Because of this, there has been a mainly hands-off approach when it comes to Eastern Coyotes.
Currently, there is no clear plan to reduce the coyote population. Citizens of Gulfport are encouraged to participate in behaviors that will discourage coyotes from being drawn to their homes.
“That’s a lot more detail than the city can take care of,” said Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly. “We would refer everyone to animal control.”
On February 6, 2018, Officer Randall Bibler of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) spoke to the Gulfport City Council about the local coyote sightings.
Bibler confirmed that because the animals are categized as “nuisance wildlife,” the FWC recommends taking precautions and remaining aware of the coyote presence in Gulfport.
“The state, we’re not really in the business of trying to get rid of coyotes,” said Bibler. “It’s been tried in the past. It does not work.”
Extermination is not a method that the FWC actively pursues.
“They’re running out of property; it’s not really their fault,” said Robert Markovich, a technician at Wildlife Control in St. Petersburg. But, he says, “there are things you can do to keep them off your property.”
“Coyotes in Florida are more prey than predator,” said Coutant. “Their normal prey is our garbage and left out cat food.”
Leaving out food and loose garbage attracts animals. Once they know a home or area has a constant food source, coyotes tend to hang around.
Already have a neighborhood coyote in your area?
“Be big and be loud,” said Coutant. “Eastern Coyotes are only like forty pounds soaking wet.”
Avoid letting household animals roam without a leash, and when walking your pets at night keep a flashlight or whistle to ward off potentially lurking coyotes.
For more Eastern Coyote information as well as a map of sightings, visit the Pinellas County Animal Services website at pinellascounty.org/animalservices/coyotes.