TAMPA — Residents in rural northwest Hillsborough County say they are ready to clamp down on what they suspect are nuisance coyotes posing a threat to area pets and livestock.
At Keystone Park this week, state wildlife and conservation officials offered property owners a host of tips on ways to be aware and protect, prepare and respond to predator attacks.
In recent months, residents in Keystone and Odessa said they have lost cats, dogs, geese and sheep to suspected coyotes roaming the semi-rural stretch of northwest Hillsborough. Coyotes are known to prey on household pets and farm animals.
“It’s a part of the risk of having pets outside, especially small pets,” said Robert Smith, a trapper and owner of Smitty’s Trapping Co.
Coyotes are found throughout Florida and every state except Hawaii. They are clever and easily adapt to their surroundings, wildlife experts said.
There are no statistics on the number of coyotes roaming Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, said Angeline Scotten, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist. Wildlife professionals depend on public sightings to help them map the canines’ locations.
The coyote, which resembles a small German shepherd, tends to roam from 10 miles to 15 miles in a rural area and about three miles in an urban area, she said. They typically weigh from 15 to 30 pounds.
“We seem to be dealing with coyotes who aren’t afraid of us,” said Jim Swain, president of the Lake Keystone Property Owners Association. “I have talked to people who say they should be afraid.”
Swain, whose cat was attacked and killed three months ago, said he and his neighbors are seeking ways to humanely reduce the number of nuisance coyotes in the area.
Scotten said most coyotes are afraid of humans, but they likely are drawn to residential areas and farms because of the availability of food.
The wildlife experts encourage people to make their property less appealing to coyotes and other predators.
◆ Do not feed or get too close to the animals.
◆ Keep pets indoors, especially after dark.
◆ Go outside with small pets during the daytime.
◆ Remove outdoor pet dishes.
◆ Keep small livestock in a pen or a barn at night.
The wildlife experts encouraged residents to contact a trapper to catch and remove a nuisance coyote. They also urged them to teach children to recognize and stay away from predators such as coyotes, foxes and bobcats.
Florida Wildlife Commission Lt. Grant Burton said property owners are allowed to shoot an animal of prey on their property, but they risk committing a felony if a bullet fired from their weapon crosses onto a neighbor’s property.
Tom Aderhold, president of the Keystone Civic Association, hosted a two-part series to provide residents with general information about coyote culture and to help people control the animals if they decide action is needed.
He urged caution: “Whatever you do is all on your own,” Aderhold said.
For information about coyotes, check out the state wildlife commission website at http ://bit.ly/1fKx4Wz and the University of Florida website at http ://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ topic_coyotes.