Coyotes hunting to feed their pups

Associated Press • Apr 8, 2007 at 10:39 AM

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Cats and dogs may be more at risk of being snatched away by coyotes now than at other time during the year because the animals are out hunting to feed their pups, state game officials said.

Although the elusive coyotes normally avoid people, H.G. Vaughn said he and his neighbor watched one hunt this week within 150 feet of his house. They also heard a pack of coyotes trap prey, communicating by barking, yelling and howling.

"We heard the coyotes sounding off," said Vaughn, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors. "All of a sudden, I guess they would corner some game."

Dan Lovelace, district wildlife biologist with the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said similar experiences are common, especially in the spring.

The coyote is an opportunistic predator and feeds on small animals such as mice, rabbits, fox and cats, Lovelace said. They also may prey on young or nesting turkeys. Domestic animals, especially small dogs and cats, may be at risk, and Lovelace cautioned against keeping pets outside unattended.

Coyotes "are very active as the male and females work together to try to provide food for their pups," Lovelace said. They hunt in family groups, which may include the mother, father and older offspring.

Because home territories may overlap, there might be more than one family group hunting in a specific area, he added.

There is no way to gauge the number of coyotes living in the area, Lovelace said.

However, he said, coyote populations have been increasing in the area for several years, "and they are definitely here to stay." Residents can help keep coyotes away from their homes by removing food sources, such as pet food for domestic animals, according to the game department's Web site. People should also secure garbage-can lids to keep coyotes from overturning cans for an easy meal. Game officials also recommend that people defend their living space when coyotes approach their homes. They suggest that people "yell, throw non-edible objects in the direction of the coyote or otherwise let the animal know it is not welcome," according to the Web site. While coyotes aren't likely to attack humans, the game department suggests that small children shouldn't be left unattended in areas frequented by coyotes.

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