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OPINION

With coyotes, our pets and our children have a predator

They wouldn’t be wandering our streets if it wasn’t worth their time.

A coyote nonchalantly walked along Francis Street in front of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Everyone seems to have a story about a coyote sighting. They’re intrepidly moving into the city, undeterred by the traffic and high rents.

My husband’s friend in West Roxbury saw three coyotes trot down Lagrange Street like they owned the place one night last week. My editor’s black lab was recently chased by one coyote with two others waiting nearby in their backyard on Cape Cod. The sight of them sends a shiver down your spine.

Facebook neighborhood groups and Nextdoor, the social media app for neighbors, are full of accounts of scary coyote encounters. On Sunday, a Roslindale resident posted that three large coyotes followed him and his dog during the day near Delano Park, around the corner from Poplar Street. Under that post, another area resident commented that someone saw a pack of five on nearby Whitford Street. Last week, a Hyde Park resident posted a video on Nextdoor of a large coyote just outside their home — also in the daylight.

Then there was the person in Swampscott who was surrounded by at least nine coyotes while walking their dog at night recently. The coyotes dissipated only when police cruisers arrived.

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Winter is coming and the urban wildlife knows it. Deer, turkeys, and coyotes lurk right around the corner. But unlike urban turkeys, which show up out of the blue and linger like unwanted dinner guests, the coyotes snatch a meal from our growing population of dogs and cats. And they wouldn’t be wandering our streets if it wasn’t worth their time.

They seemingly operate with impunity. That’s because the coyote’s natural predators, wolves and mountain lions, are nowhere to be found on the East Coast. Now our pets have a predator.

It’s not like there are more coyotes. Susan McCarthy, a wildlife biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, recently told GBH News that the coyote population in Massachusetts has remained stable over the past decade. Between 10,000 and 12,000 coyotes call Massachusetts their den. But McCarthy acknowledged that it does seem as though there are more reports of coyote sightings.

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Fearless coyotes roaming the urban jungle for food isn’t a local phenomenon. In a frightening incident in the Los Angeles area captured by a doorbell camera, a coyote attacked a 2-year-old girl in broad daylight in the family’s driveway on Friday. The coyote is seen grabbing the little girl’s legs and dragging her for a few seconds before the father chases the animal away. She had several scratches on her leg.

Why have coyotes grown more brazen and comfortable among humans? It’s a combination of many factors, according to researchers: they’re sneaky, they easily adapt (for instance, they eat whatever they can find, including insects), and they breed relatively fast. Even though coyotes are more active at night, during the height of the pandemic — when most humans went into forced hibernation — experts theorized that coyotes became more likely to come out during the day to explore urban areas that they wouldn’t normally explore before.

That’s why coyotes have been called “the ultimate American survivor,” finding a home in remote woods, subdivisions, urban parks, and backyards.

In reading about all the coyote sightings, I’ve realized that the odds that I’ll have an encounter with a coyote or — gasp! — a pack of them in my Hyde Park neighborhood while I have my two dogs in tow are high. It’s a terrifying prospect, but one that all of us should be prepared to face. If you come across a coyote, stand tall and be the alpha but keep your distance; throw small items in its direction but do not aim at it; wave your arms wildly and make loud noises.

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No one wants coyotes preying on young children or controlling the domestic pet population. But coyotes are not savages, just opportunists, and are part of a broader ecosystem. Research on the eastern coyote population has shown evidence that the canine species helps in controlling populations of rodents, geese, and even deer. Experts say we humans should adapt to them and educate ourselves to learn how to live close to them. That’s fair enough, but it’s easier said than done when you’re confronted by a coyote when you least expect it.


Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at marcela.garcia@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.