TEWKSBURY — Recently, the Animal Control Officers of Tewksbury, Billerica and Chelmsford hosted a coyote expert, John Maguranis, to share information about coyotes and how to coexist in a suburban setting.
Maguranis, a retired Army veterinary medic and animal control officer for the Town of Belmont, has been sharing information about the coyote for years. A packed auditorium at Town Hall demonstrated interest in the topic, from residents with small animals to children to hunters.
The animals have adapted to life in the suburbs and though they are perceived as a menace, the reality is they are just seeking to survive. Maguranis explained that coyotes are not to be feared by humans; we are not on their menu, and the incidence of attack is miniscule despite information which is misleading in the popular press.
That said, coyotes are interested in small animals as food, so people with small dogs and cats should not leave them out to wander.
“Keep your dog on a leash,” was the advice from Animal Control Officers in Tewksbury.
The Eastern coyote (pronounced either ky-ote or ky-otee), has migrated to the area over hundreds of years, having come from the central plains. Maguranis explained that “we are all in coyote territory,” which can span many miles despite never seeing them. Animal control officers did say respectfully that if residents see a coyote, please just take a photo. Coyotes are not a threat and are fine to be seen at any time of the day or night; they are not nocturnal and if they are seen in your yard, they may just be hunting rabbits or berries or rodents, not exhibiting signs of rabies (a common misconception).
Coyotes are here because of an abundant food source. Rapid residential development has removed woodland habitats and as such, smaller animals have moved into backyards, thereby moving the hunting grounds to the neighborhood setting. The animal control officers all emphasized the importance of not leaving food out for wildlife, including birdfeeders. It creates a dependency for the animals and draws rodents which in turn draws larger animals.
Coyote populations have flourished because their own natural predators have been eliminated. Bears, wolves and mountain lions have been wiped out from local landscapes and have altered the balance of the population. Coyotes, according to Maguranis, keep rodent populations in check, however, and are beneficial to the suburban and urban population of small animals.
ACO Christine Gualitieri did stress that pets should not be left outside unattended and that all dogs must be on a leash, not only for their own safety but in compliance with town bylaws.
“We encounter many people on the state hospital lands who let their dogs run free,” she said. “Even the best trained dogs get away from their owners and run off chasing a deer or a coyote and wind up getting hit by a car.”
Gualitieri said owners will openly argue with the officers when they are trying to do their work and keep the animals safe. There is a leash law in Tewksbury and it extends to state lands.
Maguranis said that common pest controls can be fatal for coyotes and other animals. When pups are newborn, the parents are seeking food. Rat poisons and other rodent controls can make coyotes very sick and there is no way to take them to a vet easily. Coyotes are vulnerable to the same illnesses as dogs, such as distemper, parvo virus, tapeworm, and mange.
Maguranis showed pictures of rescued coyotes with a range of issues. Officers take the animals, when they are able to be caught, to Tufts Veterinary clinic for treatment and eventual re-release.
Maguranis demonstrated how to scare off a coyote if it is in your yard through a method called hazing. Waving your arms and making loud noises will not work. During the presentation, residents were instructed to take an imposing stance and walk straight toward the animal with a serious look.
While counterintuitive, this territorial behavior by the homeowner will send the animal running and suggest that it not return. Coyotes cannot be relocated, nor should any animal, Maguranis said. The animals will upset the ecosystem in the new location and likely starve to death.
Maguranis is also an advocate for Project Coyote, a non-profit organization whose goal is to eliminate wildlife killing contests, educate about coyotes and promote coexistence. He explained that Massachusetts allows coyote killing contests similar to other states, a senseless act in his estimation which does not result in food or other outcome beyond sport killing.
For more information about coyotes, visit www.projectcoyote.org. If you have local animal control questions, contact Billerica-Tewksbury Police Department Animal Control at AC@Billericapolice.org or 978-640-4395.