Every night, Lynn Davis feeds the coyote in his backyard. This week, he's setting out four raw chickens and a couple of 20-pound slabs of venison. "This coyote's hungry," Davis says. And the meat is bait.
Davis says he's trying to get the animal used to coming to his house, so that one night, when the animal shows up for dinner, he can kill it.
The League City orthodontist believes coyotes have eaten four of his cats and a neighbor's Pomeranian. And last week a coyote attacked Davis's 48-pound Cardigan Welsh corgi, Jake.
"Jake got his ass chewed," Davis says. "Jake's pretty torn up." The dog spent a few hours in surgery.
Last week Davis saw the German shepherd-sized coyote walking along the street before dawn. His neighbor Robert Balderas sees coyotes roaming through his backyard, or pairs hanging out on his back patio. "They're beautiful, actually," says Balderas, a hairdresser.
League City, about 20 miles southeast of Houston, once was plagued by feral pigs. As more houses are built and sections of wooded habitat disappear, coyotes are the new problem.
Davis's plan is to quietly kill the coyote in his neighborhood near Ellis Road. "I can't rely on anybody to trap him," Davis says. "The city's not gonna. They're not equipped for this. I've got a gun. I'll shoot him."
And once he kills the first coyote, he plans to set out traps and quietly kill the rest.
It's always open season on Texas coyotes, according to the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife. They have been reported to eat pets, eat crops and even kill calves. And there just aren't enough state-funded trappers.
So coyotes can be hunted year-round, allowing people like Davis to try to take care of the problem themselves, says John Young, mammalogist for the state wildlife agency. People who want to kill coyotes on their own land need only a hunting license (unless, of course, the property is within a city where it is illegal to discharge a firearm).
Young says people can tell if a coyote has killed their cat by what is left behind. Stray dogs will usually leave pieces of the remains lying around, but coyotes will consume almost everything, including the bones. "You may find some fur," Young says. He recommends putting cats on a leash if there are coyotes in the area.
Coyotes exist in every county in Texas, says Tinker Boyd, curator of small mammals, carnivores and sea lions at the Houston Zoo. Davis and his neighbors have been worried that the coyotes might go after a child, but Boyd says that would be extremely rare.
She says there has been only one documented human death by coyote, and that occurred more than 20 years ago in California. Boyd says a family had been regularly feeding the coyote (she is adamant that this should never be done) and they were late in supplying its supper one night. The family's toddler went to pet the coyote -- and it killed the child.
Mostly, coyotes eat mice and rats and sometimes grasshoppers. When people leave pet food outside, or bird feeders, mice are drawn to it. And hungry coyotes follow the scent. Sometimes they'll eat a cat or dog. "It would have to be a very small dog," Boyd says.
She doesn't like the idea of people like Davis just killing the coyotes. She says they should be more cavemanlike and just scream and yell to get the coyote to go away. And maybe throw rocks -- not at the coyote, she says, but near it.
As a hunter of predators, attorney Steven Parker has killed hundreds of coyotes, many of them in the Texas Hill Country.
Killing coyotes is more exciting than hunting deer, because deer are gentle, he says. When hunting a coyote, Parker says, the idea is to make the animal hunt you. He uses a rabbit call that imitates the horrible shrieking sound a bunny makes just before it dies. Or, like Davis, he uses fresh-killed deer to lure the animal.
"It's the damnedest thing," he says. Once he killed three coyotes right in a row. The last one jumped over the bodies of the first two and kept coming at Parker, instead of running away, he says.
Davis enlisted Parker to help him catch his coyote. "Davis wants to take him down," Parker says. Parker wants to look at the coyote first and make sure it's not an especially interesting or unusual animal that ought to be kept alive. He hopes to send blood and hair samples to a friend at UCLA, to test its genetic makeup.
"If it's just an ordinary coyote, I don't have a problem with people shooting him," he says. "There's nothing that prohibits anybody from shooting him on the spot." He's a guy who measures coyotes' teeth and heads; he saves their skulls and skins "just to have a frame of reference."
Parker shot the deer that Davis has hanging in his backyard. They strung the hindquarter a couple of feet off the ground, dangling it from a tree branch. The next morning the limb was broken and the meat was gone. They believe it must have been a coyote because it was too high off the ground for a raccoon or similar animal to reach.
Parker notes that smaller animals would have eaten the meat where it fell, or at least dropped part of it while leaving the scene. Parker checked 100 yards in every direction and couldn't find evidence of the meat.
"He probably needs to be shot and gotten rid of," Parker says of the coyote. "There's too many people, and he just can't live there anymore."
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