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Property owners worry about coyote attacks in Hillsborough

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Published:   |   Updated: November 3, 2013 at 08:30 AM

ODESSA — Coyotes exist throughout Florida, but those preying on household pets and livestock in northwest Hillsborough County have residents demanding more aggressive action.

Property owners worried about fatal attacks on cats, dogs, lambs, chickens and other animals filled a recent Keystone Civic Association meeting for a presentation by state wildlife personnel. The audience included people who have lost pets, including longtime resident Jim Swain.

“Two months ago, a neighbor called me and said, ‘I have bad news for you; the remains of your cat are in my yard.’ This was an animal that sat on my lap every day for 13 years. I write books for a living,” Swain said in opening comments at the Oct. 24th meeting.

“We all have pets, and we all lose them; but having an animal eaten alive is nothing like I had ever experienced,” Swain said. He later learned five other cats were killed that August night by coyotes.

Lizzie Locke of North Mobley Road said two neighbors each lost a cat to coyotes, days apart. Only the head and a leg of one was found, she said.

Ryan Bose said he lacks the gruesome evidence of a brutal coyote attack, but his two cats disappeared from his Armistead Lane property about the same time. He said he knows of two small sheep that also became prey.

Angeline Scotten, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist who helps people deal with nuisance species, said coyotes moved into Florida soon after the last red wolves were annihilated in the 1920s, By 1990 there were sightings in Hillsborough, and Pinellas seems to have the state’s densest population of coyotes, she said.

Mammals make up 31 percent of the animals’ diet, according to examination of the stomach contents of 149 coyote carcasses collected statewide from 2011 through this year.

“They’re not targeting your pet; it’s not instinct,” Scotten said of coyotes that are about the size of a small German shepherd. “But they learn how to do it and get good at it.”

She urged pet owners to keep cats indoors and use a short leash when walking dogs. Double-strand electric fences, 6 feet high and buried 6 inches or deeper into the ground work well to protect livestock, she said.

Trapping of coyotes is legal, and they can be hunted, even at night, she told said. The use of poison is prohibited, and using mechanical steel traps requires a state permit.

Residents, who said the 8,700-acre Brooker Creek Preserve and other nearby protected lands provide a coyote haven, said they might require assistance of the Hillsborough County Commission.

Chris Wynn, the FWC regional director, offered to accompany residents to a county commission meeting.

“Coyotes brought all you people here tonight; it’s an issue,” said Keystone Civic Association President Tom Aderhold. Future meetings will be scheduled to discuss action, including clarification of local laws governing hunting coyotes.

“It’s not just Keystone,” said Swain. “They’re also in Carrollwood, they’ve been spotted all over the county. Go down to Tarpon Springs Road at night, you will hear them howling.”

gwilkens@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7124

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