About 24 coyotes have been captured and relocated in the past four months in a city government response to increasing encounters between people and coyotes, according to the Port Aransas Police Department.
The effort began after at least five people reported being bitten by coyotes in separate incidents last year. All of the victims were sleeping outdoors at night, some of them camping, Police Chief Scott Burroughs said.
When injuries occurred, they were minor, inflicted by quick nips from the coyotes; but at least some of the victims got rabies shots as precautions.
The trapping is being conducted by the Port Aransas Police Department’s animal control officers, who are using cage-style traps to catch the coyotes.
Will the trapping make a difference?
“Measuring the success of our efforts is going to be difficult,” Burroughs said. “We have no way of determining a baseline population, so we will never know if we have impacted it.”
Fewer sightings have been reported, and no one has reported bites since offi cers began trapping, but it would be premature to attribute those trends to the trapping, the chief said. Most the trapping has been done after the summer tourist season ended, which means there have been fewer people in town and camping on the beach.
“At the end of the day, the only important outcome will be eliminating or at least reducing the number of bites,” Burroughs said.
Pete Cowen, maintenance director with the Port Aransas Independent School District, said he saw one or more coyotes almost every morning, just after dawn, in the area of the district’s track field, which abuts sand dunes, in early fall last year.
But he hasn’t seen any in recent weeks, he said.
“I think the city people, the animal control guys, are doing an excellent job,” Cowen said.
PAPD uses two cage-style traps in its capture program. Officers position the traps in sand dunes and other open areas, according to where coyote sightings have been reported.
“Both traps are in constant use and moved about with some frequency, particularly if they have been non-productive,” Burroughs said. “About half of the sightings occur in or near the dunes primarily north of Access Road 1A, but there have been reported sightings as far south as the Casa condominiums.”
Animal control officers occasionally end up with raccoons and other wildlife inadvertently caught in the traps, but no stray pets have been caught yet, Burroughs said.
“Most of the trapped coyotes appear to be malnourished, which may account for their presence near town,” Burroughs said, adding that none of the animals has been rabid.
Burroughs wouldn’t comment on what his officers do with the coyotes after they’re trapped, and he wouldn’t comment on why he wouldn’t release that information.
Burroughs said the greatest number of reported coyote sightings come in the most densely populated parts of town.
“I caution people not to assume that this necessarily means there are more coyotes in those areas,” the chief said. “Logic suggests if there are more people in a certain area, there is a greater chance that someone will report a sighting. We have no way of knowing if five people reported seeing the same coyote.”
PAPD, Burroughs said, has tried to educate the public on how to instill a fear of humans in coyotes, with the hopes that it will make coyotes migrate further from populated parts of Mustang Island.
Burroughs has some advice for folks on how to make an ugly encounter with a coyote as unlikely as possible:
• Keep a good distance from a coyote when encountering one during a walk. Be “tall and loud,” shooing them with a whistle, horn or a yell. Don’t run from them, because they might instinctively give chase.
• Don’t inadvertently provide food to coyotes by leaving pet food or garbage out where coyotes can get to it.
• Folks camping on the beach should maintain clean campsites, disposing of leftover food, especially meat and bones. (Throw the refuse in public trashcans that are on the beach but away from campsites.)
• Campers should thoroughly wash their arms and hands with fragrant soaps before going to bed. Campers also should consider spending the night in tents and other enclosures rather than sleeping under the stars.