Hilton Head coyotes nothing to howl about

info@islandpacket.comJanuary 3, 2014 

Back in 2009, stories of coyotes in Sea Pines were all the talk.

Sightings of the Shepherd-like animals with bushy tails led to hunts for coyote scat, or droppings, along the community's bike paths, debates on whether they should be trapped and "Save the Sea Pines Coyotes" T shirts, sold at the Blue Water Tackle Shop at South Beach Marina. On the front of the shirts: "Let 'Em Howl" and on the back, "Save the Sea Pines Coyotes."

While the talk has died down, the coyotes have not.

They're still here -- and they're not going anywhere, according to a state wildlife biologist.

"They are primarily a western species," explained Charles Ruth of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. "But 60 to 80 years ago, they made it across (The Mississippi River), and once that happened, there was nothing to stop them from going all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, and over time, that's what happened."

Their population east of the Mississippi River has exploded in the last few decades, filling the void left by now virtually extinct wolves, like the red wolf, according to DNR.

Like alligators, they're one more idiosyncrasy to island life where natural habitat and wildlife is treasured. We hope residents will embrace the presence of the species, but also take a few extra precautions. While coyotes pose little threat to humans, they will eat cats, small dogs as well as rabbits, rodents, fawn, berries and fruit, Ruth said.

To keep pets safe, move pet food inside, keep areas around your home garbage-free and lock pets inside at night as coyotes are nocturnal.

And like alligators, you shouldn't feed coyotes. If one gets close, make a threatening gesture to intimidate it into running away, according to DNR.

The animals do have some predators. Trapping season for coyotes is from Dec. 1 to March 1. And alligators can pose a threat too.

In 2009, a Sea Pines couple said loud barking woke them up around 2 a.m. They went out to check on things because no one nearby has a dog. A Sea Pines Security officer came, and his flashlight revealed an alligator that had a coyote cornered. The alligator slid into the lagoon, and the coyote quit making a racket.

The presence of coyotes is nothing to howl about. With a few elementary precautions, there's plenty of room for them and humans on Hilton Head Island.

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