Understanding regional wildlife

Help keep them wild

Spring is here and so are the newly born offspring that populate this fauna-rich region of the state. With its 1,387 acres, California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) – one mile from the ocean and bordering large protected nature reserves – makes the area a nature lover’s paradise with some of the best hiking and biking trails in the region.

The open spaces also provide a welcoming environment for the native wildlife to nest and flourish in their habitats. The local fauna include coyotes, mountain lions, deer, wild pigs, wild turkeys, raccoons and skunks. It is not uncommon to see wild turkeys or a family of raccoons on a walk to the library or strutting near the quad outside Student Center, or even a deer or coyote hovering near the wooded areas. While they may seem friendly, it is best to leave the wildlife on campus alone.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The advice from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on their “Keep Me Wild” page is that wild animals naturally fear humans and keep their distance, but only as long as they remain fully wild. Their natural behavior is compromised by certain human behaviors, some which inadvertently prove harmful not only to the animals, but also to humans. Our interactions with coyotes is an example of this.

The word coyote was derived from the Aztec word for species “coyotl” and was called the “song dog” by Native Americans. The scientific name is “canis latrans,” which means “barking dog.” This native California species might be difficult for some to recognize as they resemble a small German shepherd dog, but with a long snout and bushy, black-tipped tail. Coyotes typically mate in February and give birth to pups 63 days later, in a little over two months around the end of April-early May.

The average coyote litters are four pups, but depending on pregnancy conditions including population density (CSUMB has a low density ratio) and the abundance of food, the litters can be as high as 11 pups. The pups emerge from their den in two to three weeks. To be expected, food requirements increase dramatically during pup rearing and that is a period when conflicts between humans are more common. Coyotes remain active all year round and do not hibernate, and can be active day or night with sightings throughout the day including at dawn and dusk. The CSUMB University Police Department asks students to report all sightings to the non emergency line (831) 655-0268.

As true for the other indigenous fauna, coyotes help to keep balance in nature and can be helpful to farmers, gardeners and homeowners as they kill destructive rodents (80 percent of a coyote’s diet) and insects. As also true for the other fauna, they are opportunistic feeders – they will feed on whatever is readily available and easy for them to obtain. They will scavenge on animal remains as well as on left behind garbage, pet foods left outdoors or fallen fruit on the ground. Coyotes will also prey on unprotected pets.

Here are a few suggestions to help keep coyotes and the other wildlife wild at CSUMB and the surrounding areas:

  • Don’t feed wild animals as that will make them dependent and less wary of humans.
  • Don’t approach or try to pet a coyote or other wild animals, as that might provoke them.
  • Feed pets indoors as outdoor feeding attracts wild animals and rodents.
  • Secure pets, especially small ones, as coyotes view them as potential food.
  • Secure all garbage, as racoons, as well as coyotes, will knock over cans and rip open trash bags.
  • Trim shrubbery and close off crawl spaces under porches and sheds that can provide cover for coyotes, raccoons or prey as they will be used for resting and raising young.

And a note to dog owners: coyotes are attracted to and can mate with unspayed/unneutered dogs.

A recommendation given by the CSUMB Police as a precaution is to not hike, bike or jog alone. If an unexpected encounter does takes place with a coyote or mountain lion (or another potentially dangerous animal) – do not confront, but discourage by making loud noises, flash lights and make oneself as large as possible by waving arms. If need be, throw rocks and be sure to pick up small children. To go without saying, if attacked, fight back!

Again, as wild animals naturally fear humans and keep their distance only as long as they remain fully wild, a proactive safety net for all is to keep wildlife wild.

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