By Tony Hicks
Bay City News Foundation

LAFAYETTE — Nikki Vilas walks her dog not long after the rises. At least she did last summer. Within four weeks, the Los Palos Drive resident encountered five coyotes in her neighborhood.

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She watched one with a cat in its jaws run across her driveway.

“The last coyote I encountered stopped me from walking my dog at that hour,” Vilas said. “This one was running up behind us. A neighbor saw it and yelled to watch out. The coyote was directly behind us and veered off at the last minute when I turned around.”

“I’m fairly certain the coyote wanted my small dog,” Vilas added. “I believe it gave up its mission while I turned around and confronted it.”

Coyote encounters aren’t rare nor are missing cats, some of which unfortunately become prey.

But Contra Costa County residents near the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness – in Alamo, Walnut Creek and Lafayette – say there’s been an
uptick in sightings in 2020 – and in missing cats, if the dozens of flyers posted on telephone poles this year are a good indicator.

“It’s hard to say if there are more coyotes or if they’re just being observed more frequently because park visitor numbers are through the roof, and/or possibly coyotes are also being attracted to the food stuffs that humans bring with them and discard,” said Doug Bell, the wildlife program manager for the East Bay Regional Park District. “It may be a combination of all these factors, possibly even coupled with the dry conditions and numerous wildlife fires that have reduced overall habitat suitability and prey availability.”

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Then there’s COVID-19, which – at least for part of the year – reduced traffic in some areas and kept humans indoors, which is why so many pictures of coyotes running around the streets of San Francisco went viral on the Internet earlier this year.

“Coyotes are real ‘culture followers’ in that they have taken up residence in our towns and cities nationwide,” Bell said. “Most interactions with humans tend to involve coyotes following dog walkers because they view the dogs as prey, as a threat to themselves, or their pups, or even as possible playmates.”

By October, dozens of Contra Costa County residents took to social media, sharing tales of sightings and missing pets. Many said they’d never heard of so many sightings in the area.

Some told of finding deer carcasses or stray bits of other animals they believe came from cats.

Debra Van Laak said she heard “nightly loud feeding frenzies” and is “amazed” more neighbors aren’t complaining.

“It has steadily increased the last six to eight months,” Van Laak said. “People seem unconcerned that there are packs of coyotes in our midst. They’ve been captured on phones and video to share, and we all marvel at nature and their beauty, yet don’t seem to fully grasp how predatory and dangerous they are left unchecked and allowed free range.”

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California Department of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist John Krause said, “the volume of coyote calls has been pretty typical for the year, maybe slightly higher due to more people working from home because of COVID.”