By William C. Singleton III
Living with the woods as your backyard is a luxury many Over the Mountain residents enjoy.
But this close-up view of nature includes close encounters with wildlife.
It’s not unusual to find coyotes, foxes, raccoons and other wildlife romping through residential backyards and neighborhoods. But being close to nature can mean problems, too.
Recently, the city of Vestavia Hills hired West Alabama Wildlife Services to trap coyotes that are coming too close to homes and neighborhoods. The city has received numerous complaints of increased coyote sightings.
“The particular wildlife that seems to get worse and worse each year is the coyotes,” said city manager Jeff Downes. Their increased presence has worried residents that their pets and children could be in danger, he added.
The city has traditionally handled complaints through education, such as informing residents on steps they can take to prevent coyotes from encroaching further into the suburbs. These steps include keeping open food and water off back porches and out of backyards and keeping pets on a leash when out in the neighborhood, which also is in keeping with city ordinance.
But the problem still persisted, Downes said, leading to more aggressive measures. At one point, Vestavia Hills used cages to catch coyotes. But this measure wasn’t successful because, like Wile E. Coyote of Looney Tunes fame, the real canines proved too wise to enter the bait traps, Downes said.
However, over a two-week period using the trapping service, 14 coyotes were captured and “dispatched,” or euthanized. The traps were set on private property with the permission of the homeowners, who were experiencing problems with coyotes encroaching onto their backyards, Downes said. Some of the coyotes caught had mange, a skin disease caused by the proliferation of mites on an animal’s body.
“Some didn’t have any hair,” Downes said. “Some were diseased. They weren’t in the best of conditions. … When you have diseased coyotes, they can come into backyards and in contact with pets and can pass on this disease to pets and possibly pass it on to humans.”
Capturing and removing coyotes was necessary from a health and safety perspective, he added.
Downes said the city hired the trapping service for only two weeks and will evaluate the situation as necessary. When the weather gets warmer, the problem decreases because coyotes aren’t on the move as much. They also have enough food in their natural environment and don’t need to venture into neighborhoods to find other food sources, Downes said. “If we need to revisit this again, we’ll do so. But we’re just watching now,” he said.
A Regional Issue
Other Over the Mountain areas also have their share of problems with wildlife intruding into suburban areas, but not to the degree Vestavia Hills has had to deal with this year.
Preston Sloan, Mountain Brook’s animal control officer, said sightings of coyotes and foxes aren’t unusual in his city. But that’s to be expected when your city is situated close to woods and forests.
“I get several calls from people seeing coyotes and foxes,” Sloan said. “But as long as they’re healthy and rightfully scared of people, I don’t think it’s a problem.”
The city would likely take action if there are reports of wildlife acting strangely, which would suggest they’re sick, he said.
“If they’re concerned because they’re acting strange, and they’re not scared of them, they should call and I’ll come check it out,” Preston said.
Homewood’s situation is similar, Mayor Scott McBrayer said. Sightings of coyotes and foxes are enough to keep the animal control officer’s phone ringing.
Occasionally, the city – with the consultation of its animal control officer and police chief – hires a company to set traps for wildlife that may pose a health risk or danger to residents and their pets.
“A big part of our community is to preserve natural areas,” the mayor said. “And those are places where these kinds of animals are going to be attracted to and stay in.”
Hoover Officer Brian Hale said that the city isn’t experiencing any increased sightings of coyotes or other wildlife, based on the calls it receives.
“Sometimes, the speed of social media might add to the perception that there are more incidents, but the reality is that it’s about the same as any other year,” he said.
Hale said education and communication are important in dealing with these type situations.
“Hoover animal control officers will work with a neighborhood and communicate what is going on and how it can minimize the chances of encouraging the animal from staying in the area,” he said.
He said it’s also important for residents to distinguish between “just a sighting” and situations that need “immediate assistance.” If immediate assistance is needed, an animal control officer will respond to the area as soon as he can, Hale said.
“The officer will evaluate and attempt to determine if the animal is just ‘passing through’ or remaining in the area. If the animal is remaining in the area, animal control will work with a contracted wildlife expert, or trapper,” he said. “They will monitor the situation to see if the same animal is coming back or if a different one is in the area. If the situation warrants, they will make every effort to trap the animal.”
Don’t Leave Food Out
Here are some tips animal control specialists offer to minimize encounters with wild animals.
• Don’t leave food out for domesticated pets. If wild animals think they can get an easy meal, they’ll take it!
• Don’t let small pets roam free.
• Secure garbage containers.
• If you’re outdoors and a wild animal is in your vicinity, make noise, shout, clap your hands and raise your arms to make yourself look bigger; the ideal is to scare it away. But get inside as soon as possible and call your local animal control officer.
• If you see a wild animal that is possibly sick or acting strangely, and it doesn’t run off, animal control should be contacted immediately.