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Coyotes, other animals on prowl in McDuffie

McDuffie County has a few wild things. Vic VanSant, the wildlife biologist for the Department of Natural Resources in Thomson, said his office receives calls periodically from people wondering if they should be concerned because they have seen a coyote.

"We tell them that as long as they are not doing something that attracts the coyotes to their house, other than just scaring them off, they don't need to do anything. They are not a hazard to people," he said.

People can attract wild animals such as coyotes, foxes or raccoons to their house without realizing it, Mr. VanSant said. Leaving pet food out all night or throwing food scraps in the yard attracts nocturnal animals looking for food. Mr. VanSant suggests feeding pets during the day, or feeding them inside a pen where another animal cannot access their food.

When a coyote is sighted, Mr. VanSant said there is no reason for alarm. He said coyotes are not known to approach people or pose a threat. But neither are coyotes scared, because they've had no experience in encounters with people. Mr. VanSant said many people shoot a BB gun or spray a water hose to scare the coyotes away.

Mr. VanSant said he has received complaints from pet owners who believe a coyote has taken their small dog or cat. The biologist said that while coyotes do feed on vegetation, carrion and small mammals, there is no proof that a coyote is responsible for the missing pets. Mr. VanSant said a larger dog could have chased the pet;it could have been run over by a car, or someone could have stolen it.

"We don't really have what I would consider any incidents where we know of coyotes causing major problems. The fact that they are around sometimes bothers people. It's understandable that they might be scared that they are going to get their pets," he said.

People with livestock are concerned about the danger of coyotes, Mr. VanSant said. The McDuffie County Extension Agent, Frank Watson, said coyotes won't mess with a full-grown cow or horse, but there are problems with newborns. Mr. Watson said he gets calls "from time to time" from farmers who are suspicious of coyotes, and from those who have actually seen coyotes attacking their young livestock.

"So it may not be real frequent, but it is an occasional problem," he said.

As the regional officer for the DNR, Mr. VanSant said he gets calls all year about coyote sightings from 20 counties, but most calls come in the spring and early summer when young animals are being born. He said more coyotes are seen then because parent predator animals are hunting extra to feed their young, or young animals are learning to hunt on their own.

Mr. VanSant does not believe the number of coyotes is rising, but the number of sightings is.

"The coyotes have always been there, and the people move out (in the country) and start seeing them. And the coyote doesn't leave, so the people have put themselves in the position to see them," he said.

In most cases, Mr. VanSant said the coyotes do not cause any problems, "but they do have that potential." If there is a problem, he said it is legal to trap or shoot coyotes because "they are not protected in any way." Mr. VanSant reminds people to obey local ordinances concerning the firing of weapons.

Web posted on Thursday, July 27, 2006

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