Mobile’s campaign to control predatory coyotes in central Mobile has shown some progress, officials say, but they’re also fielding reports from other areas – including one of a puppy taken in west Mobile.

Mobile public safety director James Barber says that this series of game-camera photos includes some images that, under close examination, appear to show the coyote carrying prey. Based on the time and location, he said, officials believe the prey is a pet cat reported missing nearby. Barber said the city’s anti-coyote efforts are directed specifically and animals that have gotten comfortable hunting around people’s homes. (Courtesy of the city of Mobile)

The city announced Sept. 19 that it was hiring a trapper to work in the Llanfair and Yester Oaks neighborhoods in central Mobile. Residents had spotted coyotes and captured images on game cameras, and the interlopers were blamed for at least some of 20 or more cats believed to have disappeared.

At the time Mobile’s executive director of public safety, James Barber, said the issue was “a top public safety concern.” On Thursday he said the program had resulted in the capture so far of two coyotes.

Barber said the low number reflected the fact that the city isn’t trying to get rid of all urban coyotes. Given coyote’s known ability to blend in to urban settings, that could be a destructive and probably Quixotic effort. Instead, he said, officials are trying to eliminate a few predatory animals that have gotten overly comfortable around homes, so that they’re now bold enough to come into yards and target pets.

Barber said the city has identified “common corridors which the coyotes are traveling, usually ditches and creek beds.” They’ve set up cameras to watch the animals’ movements, and they try to correlate those images to stories of missing pets – and in some cases, he said, they’ve caught images of coyotes carrying their prey.

The goal, he said, is to put traps along routes used by the main offenders.

“We don’t want just any coyotes,” he said. “These are problem coyotes. They’re going into people’s backyards hunting.”

Meanwhile, a report emerged Thursday of a coyote coming into a family’s backyard in west Mobile and snatching a three-month-old puppy, in an incident partially captured on video. Charles Burford, whose family resides in a neighborhood on Graham Road, told Fox 10 news that “I never thought anything like this would happen in this type of area, because everybody’s got fences.”

Barber said officials have been getting calls from all over since sounding the coyote alarm last week. He said that while random attacks are possible almost anywhere – particularly anywhere with wooded areas nearby – the city has to see evidence of “highly concentrated attacks” before it can mount a campaign to stop them.

“I can’t say at this point there’s an epidemic out there,” he said, but if people keep making calls to animal control, the city will pay attention. It’s also more concerned with actual pet attacks that general coyote sightings.

The reality he said, is the city probably has an “ongoing relationship” with urban coyotes and simply eradicating them isn’t a practical idea.

A group dedicated to the issue, the Urban Coyote Initiative, likely would agree: It says that coyotes “are present in practically every city across the United States.”

Generally, according to information on the group’s website, the canids lie low and stick to a natural diet. It’s only when they become excessively bold that they go after household cats or small dogs. The group attributes public coyote fears mostly to sensationalized accounts of such cases, but seems to acknowledge that problem coyotes sometimes have to be removed.

Barber likewise said that coyotes can be blamed for cat-killings perpetrated by dogs or even raccoons. The city wants to see a definite pattern before taking action.

Barber compared coyotes to another predator common in the area. “We’ve got a large alligator population,” he said. For the most part, they’re leery of humans and keep their distance. It’s only when they get comfortable around people and houses that they become a public nuisance.

There’s another potential problem, he said: “We’ve gotten several reports of people shooting at coyotes.” Barber, a former police chief, said he isn’t a fan of that approach. Hunting in a residential area is a bad idea, he said, and it’s also possible that a volunteer coyote exterminator could shoot somebody else’s pet.

Instead the city asks that coyote sightings be reported to the city’s animal shelter at 251-208-2800. Pet owners are encouraged to avoid leaving pet food outside, and to keep small pets indoors or in enclosures at night. The city also recommends that residents store trash in tightly-closed, heavy-duty containers that are hard for scavenging animals to raid.

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