By Cathi Arora
Residents of the Huntcliff subdivision in Sandy Springs enjoy open spaces for dogs to run, a busy equestrian center and a children’s playground. But lately, they are on high alert after frequent coyote sightings.
They don’t seem to concern Huntcliff Stables caretaker Ramon Guillen, who lives on site and had experience with coyotes in his native Mexico.
“Early in the morning I hear them barking and see them along the river, but I don’t feel threatened. They run away from me,” Guillen said. “Over in my country, we kill them.”
But horse trainer Kindra Warner isn’t as comfortable. While teaching an evening lesson recently, she saw a coyote about the size of her Labrador Retriever approach the ring. She ran towards it, yelling, in an attempt to scare it away, but it apparently wasn’t fazed.
“He just stood there staring at me for a few moments before trotting off,” Warner said. “In the distance, I could see there were three more coyotes waiting for him.”
Coyotes may once have been best known to Georgians through a character in cartoons, but no more. Residents of Sandy Springs, Buckhead and nearby communities regularly spot coyotes or signs of coyotes in their neighborhoods. And the signs show up all over, from high pitched barks in the dead of night to neighborhood message boards covered with notes listing lost pets.
Protection from coyotes
State officials say that if you believe a coyote is in your neighborhood, you should take several precautions.
“Coyotes are the number one generator of calls for north metro,” said Don McGowan, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division.
Coyotes now live in nearly every county in Georgia, including Fulton and DeKalb, McGowan said. Even though there has been a significant increase in this non-native species over the past 10 years, McGowan believes the population has saturated the countryside. “The only place left is downtown Atlanta,” McGowan said.
And they’re almost there. Chip Elliott of Atlanta Wildlife Relocator says his current coyote trapping assignment is for a neighborhood in the shadows of Lenox Mall. “I can see Bloomingdales,” he said.
The coyote has proved it is here to stay, but that’s not all bad.
The animal proves to be an asset in maintaining the balance of wildlife in Georgia. With the extinction of the red wolf in the last century, the coyote has filled a void, actually helping us by clearing away road kill and controlling the rodent population.
“The majority of times there is no cause for alarm,” McGowan said. “They are typically timid creatures that usually do not come in contact with humans.”
According to McGowan most calls involve education. “Many folks don’t even know we have coyotes in the area,” he said. “Some folks are okay with education, but others are less tolerant.”
For those callers who request removal, McGowan will refer them to a licensed trapper such as Elliott. Unfortunately, this can be costly and time-consuming.
But desperate times call for desperate measures.
This past summer, following the untimely demise of his pet swans and the morbid discovery of what was left of a neighbor’s beloved peacock, Jay Smith, a retired communications executive from the Mount Paran-Northside neighborhood in Buckhead, sprang into action.
“It wasn’t difficult to surmise this was the work of coyotes,” said Smith, who spearheaded a neighborhood awareness campaign and obtained the cooperation of 45 area families; each contributed $50 and allowed trapping access on their property.
Smith hired Elliott, who set several leg traps throughout the neighborhood. After weeks of daily trap checks, he removed eight coyotes ranging in size from 25 to 50 pounds.
“For now our coyote situation is manageable, but I fully believe we will need to reactivate,” Smith said. “They are extraordinarily smart. We have to keep ahead of them.”