A $4.8 million project designed to replenish San Pedro's 3-mile-long undeveloped Peck Park Canyon has proven to be a natural lure to more than just hikers and dog walkers.
Sightings of at least two coyotes have been reported over the past month, mostly within the chapparal-covered deep ravine that connects to Peck Park, but also in nearby backyards surrounding Park Western Elementary School.
"They were definitely coyotes and not stray dogs," said Kevin Cresswell, whose house backs up to the canyon.
At 7:15 a.m. Tuesday, Cresswell and his two children, ages 9 and 6, saw hat appeared to be two coyotes about 25 yards away from their house.
They "stayed still for about 30 seconds. It was daylight and from our vantage point they were raised up above our wall. "
Cresswell's 9-year-old agreed about what they saw: "They were definitely coyotes, dirty light gray coats, and long snouts with pointed ears" and bushy tails "like a fox. "
"We studied them at school," she said. "I know they were coyotes. "
A week earlier, also on a Tuesday, Andrea Stammreich of San Pedro was surprised to see two coyotes "loping across the backyard at around 7 a.m." and looking very much at home.
She was getting ready to let the family dog out into the backyard when she did a double-take.
"We're accustomed to seeing critters, the occasional possum, raccoons, skunks. But wow. "
Accustomed to seeing coyotes in their former Orange County neighborhood, though, she was sure what she saw were coyotes.
"It was strange, at first I thought 'What's a (strange) dog doing in our backyard?' Then I thought, that's not a dog, that's nothing like a dog. "
The pair looked her way but kept trotting along, crossing into several unfenced and connected backyards as Stammreich began calling her neighbors with warnings.
Stammreich said later that same morning - at around 7:45 a.m. - a neighbor called to tell her that a crossing guard at Park Western School knocked on her door to tell her that a coyote had just jumped over their fence and into their backyard.
Donna Divona, who with her husband is part of the Miraflores Park Neighborhood Watch group, said emails have gone out just to warn residents about the possible presence of coyotes.
While she didn't think much about it at the time, Divona said she thought she also might have seen a coyote at the canyon about two months ago.
Coyotes, which tend to be more active in spring, are becoming more common in urban areas, where the policy of most cities, including Los Angeles, is to educate residents how to deter them from coming onto their property.
While coyote attacks on humans are rare, they are a threat to small pets and can even be dangerous to small children who are unattended.
Various cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County have their own coyote reporting procedures.
San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City and Harbor Gateway residents who spot coyotes are asked to call the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services at 888-452-7381.
But unless an animal appears sick or poses a threat with reports of attacks, the Los Angeles city policy since 1994 has been mostly a hands-off one. Officials advise residents on how best to deter wildlife from encroaching on their properties.
"We don't trap, we don't kill," said Armando Navarrete, acting lieutenant for the city's Animal Services special operations and wildlife division. "Wildlife is getting closer and closer to the city nowadays, they're just trying to survive.
"People are building (in the coyotes' natural habitats) and that's forcing them to find food elsewhere. "
Scavengers, coyotes will seek outdoor food, water and trash sources to survive. The bulk of their diet consists of small animals such as rodents, but coyotes also have been known to snatch cats or small dogs by the neck and to take down livestock such as goats and sheep.
They can be found in every part of the United States and have adapted to city and suburban life quite well. They will especially seek out areas with tall grass and heavy vegetation.
The California Department of Fish and Game estimates the coyote population in the state to be between 250,000 to 750,000.
Stammreich, who described the animals she saw on April 23 as lean and a grayish-brown color, said she suspects they were making the rounds because it was trash pickup day in her neighborhood.
She called Los Angeles City Animal Services to report the sightings.
"I was told that this is their habitat and they roam freely," she said. "It just bothers me because we back right up to the school. ... We're talking about kindergartners. "
Several weeks earlier, in late March, Kathy Petroczy of San Pedro said she encountered a coyote on one of the trails in Peck Park Canyon. The ravine, also called Mira Flores Canyon, runs east nearly to Gaffey Street and two years ago was spruced up with new hiking trails. A natural creek runs at the bottom, mostly hidden by heavy vegetation.
"It was late morning and he was standing in the middle of the trail," she said, describing the animal as "very lean" and smaller than a German shepherd.
Petroczy said it was then that she "put two and two together." She and other canyon regulars who feed and keep tabs on some of the feral cats in the canyon had noticed that two of the older, slower cats that were regulars had vanished just a few days earlier.
Coyotes are especially common on the Palos Verdes Peninsula which is adjacent to San Pedro's northern boundary.
In 2010, coyotes were seen stalking a herd of grazing goats on the Ponte Vista property. Around the same time, coyotes also were photographed on the 350-acre undeveloped Navy property next to Ponte Vista, bounded by Western Avenue, Palos Verdes Drive North and North Gaffey Street.
The city, Navarrete said, does keep records on coyote sightings so officials can tell when there seems to be a pattern becoming established.
Coyotes are naturally thin, but if they appear to be ill - with eye or nose discharges, for example - officers will respond and tranquilize the animal to remove it.
He said the best way to deter coyotes is to never to leave food or water outside, keep trash can lids closed and make sure small pets are leashed on walks and kept indoors at night.
The city also advises residents to close off crawl spaces under porches and decks and to keep property well lighted at night. The animals can be attracted to fruit trees and vegetable gardens.
"The best thing (on dog walks) is to just keep your animal close," Navarrete said, adding that making loud noises or talking in a loud voice also can stop a potential attack.
"Use a commanding tone, even coyotes will see that as, 'Whoa, that's something that's threatening to me.' And then hopefully they'll move on. "
For more information about coyotes, go to http://www.laanimalservices.com/about-animals/wildlife/coyotes. If coyotes are sighted in the Harbor Area (within the city of Los Angeles), call 888-452-7381.
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