Coyotes on the prowl in Santa Monica

A coyote, thought to be a part of a migrating pack, was seen on Ocean Avenue and 25th Street in Santa Monica last week, several blocks from Santa Monica College. The coyote sighting occurred after several other reports of coyotes near the Santa Monica Municipal Airport and the golf course, said Sgt. Jay Moroso of the Santa Monica Police Department.

The family of coyotes appears to have decided to migrate to the Santa Monica area, Moroso said.

"It does appear that it's a family of a male, a female and two young adults," he said. "It's a family. It's not like there's 30 of these things running around the city."

The sightings have been so frequent that the SMPD felt the necessity to issue a public information bulletin on Nov. 8, detailing what to do if residents encounter a coyote.

"As far as we know, we've had reports secondhand of sightings throughout Sunset Park area, the Santa Monica Airport area, and I believe one or two on the north side of the city," Moroso said.

Santa Monica resident Sonny Lettig regularly goes out for late night walks at Clover Park, which is located right behind the airport. About a month ago, he said he witnessed a coyote dash across the park’s large, open center field.

“At first I thought it was a cat, but I realized it was much bigger,” Lettig said. “It moved underneath the light.”

Lettig suspected that the coyotes were drawn to the park’s large dumpsters, where locals leave leftovers from picnics.

“I know they’re here,” he said. “They’re probably trying to get food the way bears do.”

While it is hard to determine exactly why a family of coyotes would descend into Santa Monica, or where they are even coming from, the SMPD agreed that the most likely cause is food.

“Most of these animals are all food-driven, so they are coming down for a food source,” Moroso said.

He emphasized that it appears the coyote family has been living specifically around the airport in the brush area.

"We are looking in that area and have traps set up," he said.

Once the coyotes are safely captured, the police will contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine the best course of action, which could include letting them loose into the wild.

The public information bulletin states that "urban sprawl" can cause animals such as coyotes to leave their natural habitat because of a creeping human presence or activities such as construction.

Moroso suspected that the coyotes are coming from the Santa Monica Mountains, the base of which is only about a mile from the north-side city limits of Santa Monica.

There have also been reports of pets and other small animals being snatched by the coyotes, Moroso said.

"We have anecdotally gotten information secondhand that cats, dogs and in one case a rabbit were attacked by a coyote," he said. "But we at the police department have no direct knowledge that has happened."

Santa Monica College Police Department Officer Summer Samano said that if a coyote were to make its way onto campus, the SMCPD would call Animal Control.

"We would deal with the situation as best as possible until they arrive," she said. "If it's just one coyote, it's probably more afraid of you than you of it. But if it's a pack of four, then it's an issue."

SMC student Paul Martinez was not too fazed by the idea of seeing a coyote nearby, but does know from experience the tense surprise of encountering one.

"Where I live in Eagle Rock, I've seen a few coyotes," he said. "I was walking my dog and saw a coyote across the street staring at us. I just slowly walked away with my dog, and luckily, it went away."

Moroso recommended that any residents who encounter one of the coyotes should call 911. If the situation is not serious or life-threatening, residents should call the police department's Animal Control unit.

To avoid encounters, the SMPD recommends that residents who suspect the coyotes are near their area to keep small pets indoors, secure garbage cans with secure lids, and to not leave food bowls for pets outside during the night.

If you find yourself facing a coyote, recommended techniques are to wave your arms, shout in a low, loud tone, or make yourself look as big as possible, including opening your jacket like a cape.

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