At first, Sheri Getsinger thought it was just a lost dog.
She saw the animal prowling the side of the road as she pulled onto Bluffton Parkway from Okatie Highway last month.
“I’m a dog lover, so if I see one on the side of the road I’ll stop and make sure it gets somewhere safe,” Getsinger said.
But as she drove closer, she “realized it wasn’t a dog — it was a coyote.”
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“It was pretty scary,” Getsinger said. “He looked pretty sick and mangy.”
Getisinger’s experience isn’t an isolated incident. All around Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, people are reporting coyote sightings.
It blew my mind.
Katie Vaught saw one near the corner of U.S. 278 and Spanish Wells Road last month.
The animal was “just running across the road,” she said.
“I was sure it was going to get hit by a car. But (the coyote) was moving very quickly, it was certainly agile and athletic. It blew my mind”
Pete King, who lives in Hilton Head Plantation, spotted a coyote near his home late last year.
“I was sitting in my office on the second floor and a coyote ran right through the backyard,” he said. “I have two little dogs, so I was concerned about it.”
While coyotes are typically associated with the Southwest, they have been present in South Carolina for decades, S.C. Department of Natural Resources biologist Jay Butfiloski said earlier this week.
Every time developments go up, these animals get pushed out of their habitats.
But in “some of the growing and developing areas like Bluffton, (seeing coyotes) is a newer phenomenon,” he said.
As new neighborhoods and shopping centers spring up, the wooded areas where these animals live shrink.
“There is so much building going on, and every time developments go up, these animals get pushed out of their habitats,” Critter Management owner Joe Maffo said. “(The animals) are just running for their lives.”
Matt Kraycar of K&K Wildlife Services said he “get(s) a couple of calls every month” about coyotes.
Those calls have increased in recent months because “there tends to be quite a bit of mating” between January and March, he said.
Butfiloski said the animal’s wintertime breeding season causes coyotes to be particularly active around dusk. And since night falls earlier this time of year, people are more likely to see and hear the animals.
“If this was summertime, it would get dark (at around 8 p.m.) and most people would already be home settled in,” he said. “But if it’s getting dark at (6 p.m.), people are still driving home from work and are more likely to see coyotes along the side of the road.”
What if you spot one?
By no means should you touch a coyote, even if it is a baby, Maffo said.
“I know they’re cute, but don’t approach them,” he said.
To get a coyote to run off, Butfiloski recommends “act(ting) very aggressively toward them.”
“Make loud noises, make yourself look big,” he said. “You want to make sure it’s uncomfortable for them to be there.”
Kraycar agreed, saying “if you see them around your property, a lot of times making noise will scare them away.”
Never feed a coyote, whether intentionally or unintentionally, Butfiloski said.
If you leave pet food outside, coyotes may be enticed to venture closer to homes.
A regular source of food sitting outside the door of your backyard shed “can lead to coyotes being a little more comfortable being close to be people and homes,” Butfiloski said.
“You start having problems when you have animals that no longer have a fear of people.”
Simply spotting a coyote or hearing the howling of a pack isn’t necessarily a problem, Butfiloski said.
But if the animals regularly venture too close to people “there are occasions where the animal may need to be removed.”
Because coyotes can be hunted legally year-round, removing them from rural parts of the state is pretty simple.
“People just shoot them if they come on their property,” Butfiloski said. “But that can be an issue in developed areas. We don’t expect people in (places like Hilton Head or Bluffton) to be discharging weapons in residential neighborhoods.”
If you have a coyote prowling around your neighborhood and you think it could become a problem, Butfiloski recommends calling a local animal and pest control company.
Humane trapping methods can be used to remove individual animals, but coyotes in the Lowcountry are here to stay, he said.
“We are way passed the point of trying to eradicate them. That’s just not going to happen,” he said. “But we can keep negative interactions down to a minimum.”