You can’t imagine how I felt when the woman from the Nevada Department of Wildlife said that coyotes live in every state of the continental union. Moreover, “they flourish throughout the entire state of Nevada, including urban areas such as Las Vegas and Reno.”
I’m a city person from New Jersey, having lived most of my life a few miles from midtown Manhattan, and here was wildlife expert Jennifer Waithman talking to several hundred Sun City Summerlin residents about coyotes being just as endemic to the urban areas “back east” as they are to Summerlin.
Well, I must confess that until Fran and I moved from “back east” to Las Vegas 19 years ago, the only coyotes I ever heard about were the ones mentioned in those old-time Western flicks. That was when John Wayne, Roy Rogers, William Boyd (as Hopalong Cassidy) and the multitude of “sidekick” roles played by George “Gabby” Hayes referred to coyotes as “them critters” or “them varmints.”
And it wasn’t until the day shortly after we came to Sun City, when I shanked a drive into some bushes at Highland Falls Golf Course, that I ever saw a real, live coyote, running like the wind down the middle of the fairway, maybe to show me where I should have hit the ball.
But, truth be told, the coyote population might be just a bit larger in this neck of the woods, Waithman said. Summerlin could have more coyotes due to its geography. The combination of desert environment and location at the edge of mountainous regions north and west of Summerlin, where shelter and food— in the form of rodents, rabbits, rattlesnakes and birds of prey — are plentiful and help provide a homey atmosphere for coyotes.
“Don’t forget, coyotes were living here before we arrived. What’s more, what you like, they like,” said Waithman, who is the wildlife education coordinator in the department’s Conservation Education Division.
It was when she said that coyotes could even be your next-door neighbor that I took exception. But before I could come to the defense of my next-door neighbors, she clarified the matter.
“They den in rock crevices, sinkholes and heavy underbrush,” Waithman said.
As you might expect, the predominant concern of the denizens of Sun City who attended the Residents’ Forum to eat ice cream and hear about coyotes was self-preservation. How dangerous are coyotes and what can be done to keep them away from our doors?
It was here that Waithman, a perceptive woman indeed, cut right to the chase. To begin with, coyotes come from the dog family. Maybe not the cute little Shih Tzu or cavalier King Charles spaniel that cuddles up to share your bed. They’re more like a medium-sized shepherd-collie, Waithman explained.
“Seeing a coyote is no cause for alarm,” she emphasized. “Just leave them alone. They won’t bother you as long as you maintain a safe distance. And don’t attempt to corner them. Coyotes rarely attack humans. There is no confirmation of any human in Nevada ever being bitten by a coyote.
“Their natural corridors are golf courses, lush water-based landscapes and life on the edge of natural surroundings,” she said. Sounds a lot like Summerlin, especially Sun City with its three golf courses.
Waithman made a point of re-emphasizing that coyotes want nothing to do with humans, “so never feed them, intentionally or accidentally.”
But they wouldn’t mind making a dinner out of your small household pets, if you let your pet roam freely. And your garbage might provide a festive occasion for coyotes. In fact, it might be a good idea to put out your garbage for collection the morning of pickup rather than the night before, which is common.
“There have been very rare instances of coyote attacks against humans,” Waithman said. “Never corner the animal, such as in a garage. Give it plenty of opportunity to escape.”
She added that you should never let them find a place in your backyard that could provide a comfortable setting.
“You can eliminate their hiding places by trimming or clearing vegetation,” she said.
For more information, call the Department of Wildlife at 702-486-5127.
Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at email@example.com.