COYOTE SIGHTINGS are on the rise in many Boston suburbs. A fatal attack on a family dog and reports of missing cats brought out more than 60 people to a recent community meeting in Newton to air their fears. If coyotes can kill pets, they might do the same to small children, some parents reasoned.
The concerns are understandable, though the number of coyote attacks on humans has been quite small: Just four confirmed cases in Massachusetts over the past 60 years. While parents of very young children should be careful around the animals, the risk isn’t great enough to justify some of the measures proposed at the hearing, including removing and killing all coyotes. (It is illegal in Massachusetts to capture and relocate them, so the only removal option is lethal.) The dangers of having animal-control officers hunting suburban streets for random coyotes would far outweigh the protection. Moreover, state wildlife officials say, eliminating individual coyotes is unlikely to reduce the numbers of coyotes by a significant number. The best policy remains the current one: Neighbors should report a coyote that seems aggressive, and officers will then shoot it on sight.
With as many as 10,000 coyotes in the state, wildlife officials say, any notion of keeping this wide-ranging animal out of the suburbs entirely would be challenging, if not futile. The increasing presence of the coyote in Boston suburbs, like the well-publicized profusion of deer and wild turkeys, attests to the efforts of many towns to maintain green space.
When the coyotes, which are larger than most dogs and can reach 65 pounds (Eastern coyotes are large because they’re part wolf), started appearing about a decade ago, towns such as Belmont launched programs to alert neighbors by having them plot sightings on an interactive tracking system. The online sites now feature tips on how to make enough noise to ward off coyotes, and warnings to keep dogs and cats indoors when coyotes are in the area. They advise people never to feed coyotes, lest they learn to hang around houses. Belmont animal control officer John Maguranis said the greater publicity has helped to demystify the animal, leaving neighbors less alarmed.
“We went through that kind of fear [as in Newton] nine years ago, when one coyote got a taste for cats,’’ Maguranis said. “People were outraged and fearful. The first reaction was to annihilate coyotes. Last year we had a dog bitten by a coyote, and there was no outrage. Even the dog owner understood. Today, when people call me about coyotes, it’s mostly to share their excitement of seeing one.’’
Not everyone is going to learn to love coyotes, of course, but Belmont’s constructive approach to the animal’s growing presence is a good starting point for other towns. Some vigilance around wild animals will always be required, but the hope exists that with common-sense precautions, humans, pets, and wildlife can share the suburbs.