Pleas prompt Manhattan Beach Council to enlist coyote trapper

Jamie Kelch, of Hermosa Beach, posted this image of a coyote she recently spotted at Second Street and Valley Drive in Hermosa Beach. Photo by Jamie Kelch

by Mark McDermott

The Manhattan Beach City Council is looking for a trapper. 

Two weeks ago, impassioned residents implored the Council to take action against what they described as an invasion of coyotes that has resulted in the death of at least one cat and is suspected in the deaths of several other pets. 

Resident Kristin Muller told the council her family lost three cats in two months to coyote attacks in the Liberty Village neighborhood. The coyote, she said, returned again and again to the family’s home, even as they took measures to defend their cats —  obtaining gallons of wolf urine to scare off the coyotes, and waking at 3:30 a.m. daily to keep her cats safe. The last of the cats to die, Milkshake, escaped previous attacks but finally perished. 

“The night Milkshake was killed my daughter was out of town and I had not woken up yet,” she said. “Our ring camera video indicates she was ambushed and killed from behind at 3:46 a.m., just after leaving our driveway five minutes earlier. I have six videos so far from this past month of a coyote chasing the cats to their safety zone under our cars. The week before they got Milkshake, she had a very close call. However, you can’t stop these horrific coyotes. They remember. Then they come back, and they keep coming back every single night until they eventually catch their prey. I can’t remember when I last saw my family under such heartbreak when we woke up and saw poor Milkshake lying on the neighbor’s lawn across the street half eaten.” 

A coyote on the Hermosa Greenbelt last month. Photo by Nicole Ellison via Facebook

Danielle Kranoff told the council that four nights earlier, her neighbor’s cat, Puddy, was violently killed in what the neighborhood of Pine Avenue believed was a coyote attack. 

“I say a coyote because I can only assume what I saw, what was left of Puddy, could not have been done by any animal other than the instincts [for] killing of a coyote,” she said.  “Puddy was an extremely loving cat, very social —  in fact, so popular many residents of the of the Pine Avenue street actually called the mayor of Pine Avenue….What happened to him, having his life taken away in such a gruesome and horrific way is unconscionable and unacceptable. While I am very sad over his passing, I am a realist and understand that we cannot protect every living creature roaming our streets. But we should be able to protect our domestic pets from predators.” 

Christina Yee said she heard a cat being attacked by a coyote. 

“That sound, I’ll never forget it,” she said. “I have two huskies, they are in my backyard, they go absolutely nuts because they can smell that coyote. Two night ago was the first time I saw it, right in front of me, heading its way down to Polliwog Park….My dogs are not safe, let alone the cats, and the children. Something needs to be done. I don’t want to see another animal die. I don’t see any cats in my neighborhood, they are gone…even the possums are gone.” 

Elizabeth Laughlin, better known as Punkin Pie, wept as she recalled the deep attachment she felt for her pet. Laughlin didn’t see the attack but later saw photos her neighbors had taken of her remains. 

“My baby daughter was semi-feral. I had rescued her. She was a rag doll,” Laughlin said. “We sang. We danced. We did everything together. She loved to sing. We talked all day. I always had my best friend to talk to, instead of just myself, which was great. And I loved her to death, more than life itself. We were going to be moving to Hawaii together for my swan song. She was taken…They showed me the picture, and I have to live with that the rest of my life.” 

“Attacks on pets are on the rise, and it’s time to take action,” said resident Kimberly Mack. “A toddler was viciously attacked in Huntington Beach in April. Imagine that happening here…I know Manhattan Beach prioritizes public safety, so I fully expect city officials will take this problem seriously. Putting coyote management on the backs is unfair.” 

Acting Captain Andy Harrod, who is leading MBPD’s response, said he deeply empathized with residents because he lost a cat to a coyote attack at his home in El Segundo as well. Harrod met with state Department of Wildlife biologists and animal control officers from neighboring cities and has organized police patrols in areas such as Liberty Village to try to “haze” and scare away the coyotes. 

“We’re going to talk about the possibility of trapping and euthanizing the coyotes that are the most aggressive,” Harrod said. “We are going to move as fast and as quickly as we can and do a good job [to help] our citizens to feel safe and secure, and they want to feel safe and secure along with their pets.” 

“Speaking for myself, you can skip the hazing and go straight to the trapping,” said Mayor Steve Napolitano. 

At the most recent meeting, on Tuesday night, the Council revisited the matter and unanimously agreed to hire a coyote trapper. They did so against the recommendation of two California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists, who attended the meeting via Zoom. 

A pair of urban coyotes in Palos Verdes. Photo by Michael Hakimi

Biologist Rebecca Barboza said trapping and killing coyotes often has the opposite of its intended effect, actually increasing coyote population sizes in areas in which targeted animals had been removed. 

“The long and short of it is that lethal control of a coyote population isn’t very much a long term, effective solution,” Barboza said. “Typically when we do see these sorts of trapping or lethal removal efforts, they target specific individuals who have been deemed a public safety concern. Part of the reason why lethal control of coyote populations isn’t very effective as we’ve actually found that it can increase coyote numbers. Other neighboring coyote packs will recognize that a space is essentially opened and they will fill it. They can actually have an increase in litter sizes as well when this occurs. When it comes to coyote populations, it’s usually going to be food and competitors, and available space that’s going to be regulating their populations, not necessarily human intervention.” 

Councilperson Suzanne Hadley asked what the upshot of this was for determining an approach to reining in the city’s coyote population. 

“I guess I’m trying to figure out, are you saying that coyotes are like sharks,  and there’s really nothing we can do, they’re gonna be in the ocean?” Hadley said. “Or are we saying they’re more like a criminal gang that we can kind of identify and track down and get them on income tax fraud if we have to? Because if it’s like sharks, then we should be a little more honest with the community and say, ‘We’re not going to trap and euthanize, we have to live with them.’ But the community is asking for trapping and euthanizing some of them anyway.”  

​​”Coyotes don’t come out of the woods and immediately start attacking animals, and people,” Barboza said. “This is a learned behavior over time. They’ve documented this in studies where there’s a predictable pattern of behavior that occurs, and that behavior is caused by feeding these animals, either directly or indirectly. So what we prefer is we take a community approach and get the community educated, so they’re no longer providing coyotes a food source so the coyote population doesn’t artificially expand beyond what we might think would be a comfortable number of animals.” 

Coyotes are one of the most adaptable species on the planet. They have particularly thrived in the U.S. over the last century, expanding from just the westernmost states to every state in the U.S except Hawaii. This is because their predators, wolves and large wild cats, have largely disappeared, while human suburbs (and human food sources) have expanded into previously unpopulated areas. DFW estimates there are between 250,000 and 750,000 coyotes in California. The reason culling efforts have proved counterproductive has to do with pack behavior and the animal’s robust reproductive cycles. More than 500,000 coyotes are killed annually, according to a National Geographic report, yet the population continues to grow exponentially. 

Biologists believe the reason for this is that culling efforts often take out the animals that no longer are producing litters. Wildlife writer David Quammen examined this phenomenon in his book “Wild Thoughts from Wild Places.”

“You kill mature alpha males and alpha females (that is, pack leaders) in the six-to-twelve-year-old class, aging animals that are robust enough to maintain their dominant status and their territories, but too old to be fertile  (In other words, these relatively few individuals hold the exclusive social prerogative to breed, but in many cases no longer exercise it.). Kill them and you encourage younger, submissive animals to claim dominance and begin breeding.You increase the reproductive rate of the population,” Quammen wrote. 

A fertile female coyote produces a litter each year which ranges from six to 19 young coyotes. So when an older animal is killed, but the area where the animal lived still has ample food resources and areas to hide, younger animals move into the area. It’s a wildlife form of supply and demand. 

In a staff report given Tuesday night, George Gabriel, assistant to the City Manager, outlined the broad outreach the City is making to other cities, and to its own residents to help establish “best practices” for dealing with coyotes. These include securing trash cans so they cannot be tipped, removing bird feeders, not allowing pets outside at night, and picking up fallen fruit from under trees. Gabriel also presented data that showed there have been 15 coyote incidents this year —  including nine sightings, five unconfirmed predations, and one confirmed. There have been two confirmed predations since 2016 and 18 unconfirmed, while overall incidents increased last year to 30 from 13 the year before. Only four incidents were reported in 2019 and 8 in 2018 but 28 in 2017. 

“By all metrics, it seems like coyote sightings are on trend in line with the prior years, dating back to 2016,” Gabriel said. “Additionally, the City is exploring the purchase of game cameras that allow the city to observe potential coyote behaviors in areas with reported coyote sightings.” 

Hadley strongly suggested hiring a trapper to at least determine the extent of the city’s coyote problem. She said just telling people to change their behavior and adopt best practices was not enough. 

“That’s a little bit blaming the victim I think, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a birdbath,” she said. “It’s important people need to do these things; it’s a necessary but not a sufficient condition. So I, at a minimum, would like to hire somebody to find out, ‘What kind of problem do we have?’” 

“I do think we have a problem and I do think our community is asking us to do something,” she said. “ So I’m not going to say you’re not covering up your trash and shame on you for having a bird feeder. That’s not good enough for me. They want us to act. They want us to keep them safe.” 

Councilperson Hildy Stern suggested balancing what experts are saying with the action the council takes. 

“I think we are definitely taking the concern seriously from our community,” Stern said. “We have these anecdotal sightings, and that’s something to be very concerned about. Just want to make sure we’re doing something that is actually effective, because I’m not an expert in coyotes. I don’t think any of us are, but I really want to rely on the experts…It’s not about blame. It’s about us just kind of reassessing our own habits.” 

Councilperson Richard Montgomery agreed. 

“I want to spend the money on something that’s actually effective, that makes a difference. Not just check the box, so you hired a trapper, that’s it,” he said. “Let’s see what we have out there, what we can find, and then make the right choice. Because information outreach is crucial, too, but this should go hand in hand.” 

Hadley made a motion to hire a trapper to first do an inventory and investigation of the problem. Napolitano suggested the trapper should begin with a two week sweep that included trapping and killing coyotes. 

“I see this as less of a people problem and more of a coyote problem because this hasn’t been the established norm for many years. It’s becoming more of a norm,” he said. “I don’t think it should become a norm. You know, we would not let wild dogs run around the streets of Manhattan Beach without trapping and euthanizing them….We heard from many residents who consider these pets family members, that are very distraught over their loss, and we know coyotes are coming in and doing these deeds. So why not just go directly to trapping and euthanizing?” 

Hadley’s motion passed unanimously. 

“I would like a report from the trapper about what he or she does, how they do it, what our population is, and what they recommend,” Hadley said. “Or, if they come back and say exterminate the local population, I want to note that. Because we will get pushback.” ER 


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