Spring is in the air and the desert is entering its cycle of new life. However, for the Ahwatukee community, that could mean more than seasonal allergies.
More specifically, residents could see an increase in the presence of coyotes in their neighborhoods.
Urban Wildlife Specialist Darren Julian of the Arizona Game and Fish Department said at this time of year, coyotes breed and raise their pups. The mothers become more active when they have several mouths to feed.
“You may be seeing the same coyote more often,” he said.
However, the risk of disease threats from the animals are very minimal, Julian said. Specifically, the chances of a rabies outbreak are slim in Maricopa County because of the abundance of water; outbreaks are more common during droughts when animals are clustered together competing for access to water sources.
Julian said coyotes are attracted to urban landscapes and neighborhoods for many reasons. Water is easy to find — whether it be in a pool, fountain or irrigation system — and prey animals such as rabbits, birds and even small pets are in large supply.
Ahwatukee resident Adeena Hender-Brown, 19, said three of her cats have disappeared at her home at the base of South Mountain on Elliot Road and 48th Street.
“I know it’s coyotes,” she said, explaining that her favorite cat, Guido, vanished two to three months ago, and she hasn’t seen him since then.
Hender-Brown said she has seen coyotes in her front yard and has heard them howling and whimpering outside her home. A few years ago, she said her father saw one of the animals jump over the wall in their backyard.
Does that sound a little too outrageous? Not really.
Robert Young, owner of All Animals Rescue and Transportation in Phoenix, said he has seen a coyote walk along a 7-foot-tall wall like a cat.
“It doesn’t matter what you throw at them,” he said. “They’ll adapt to it.”
Young said he has been in the animal control business for nearly 18 years, and like Julian, he has observed an increase in calls about coyotes in mid- to late-spring during breeding season, but otherwise it’s relatively steady.
The animal control expert said as Arizonans continue to build out into the desert, coyotes don’t really have much of a choice when it comes to their presence in urban areas. Man-made structures such as storm drains give the animals shelter, and residents often feed them even though it’s illegal to do so in the state.
Young said that although nature gives coyotes all they need, “(it’s) easier for them to catch people’s dogs and cats.”
So what should Ahwatukee residents do if they encounter the animals in their neighborhoods?
Both Young and Julian have some advice. The experts said the first priority is to scare them off — make loud noises and wave your arms over your head. If you see a coyote in your yard, the men suggest spraying them with water or throwing small pebbles or tennis balls at them. They said the idea is to frighten the animals away without hurting or directly coming into contact with them.
“Do what you can to make them leave the area,” Julian said, adding that after scaring a coyote off, residents should investigate what attracted it to the area in the first place.
Young said the main idea is to keep coyotes wild — if they get comfortable with human beings it will not only cause problems in the urban community, but will also lessen the animals’ likelihood of success in the wild. If they get used to human touch and behavior, it’s as good as a “death signature” for the animal.
He said that on top of being good jumpers, coyotes are curious, smart and fast. After having one of his cats snatched from his yard by a coyote, he suggested that pet owners construct kennels in their backyards to provide their animals with some kind of shelter for protection, and Julian said the same.
Additionally, to avoid having your pet eaten, Young specifically suggested watching your dog or cat when they go outside at dawn and dusk, because coyotes are most active at those times.
Julian warned that coyotes are wild animals, and said it’s important to remember that humans are living in their habitat. If suburban residents stop feeding wildlife, coyotes will be less attracted to neighborhood areas, and everyone will be safer — people, pets and coyotes included.
“Everyone wins,” he said.
• Katie-Lee Faulkner is a sophomore at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.