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VOL. 43 | NO. 27 | Friday, July 5, 2019

Yes, coyotes are all around us; No, you shouldn’t panic

How to co-exist with the new king of suburbia

By Larry Woody

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In January, a coyote was found cowering in a restroom in the Music City Center.

It might have been in town for a Predators game.

The bushy-tailed gate-crasher darted past security and sought refuge in the restroom. It was eventually collared and escorted off the premises by Metro Animal Care and Control officials.

Although it is believed to be the first time a coyote has used the restroom in a major downtown public facility, wildlife officials figured it was just a matter of time.

Coyotes seem to be showing up everywhere around Nashville, trotting along, dodging panhandlers and Bird scooters.

Don’t be surprised if you spot one in Tootsies, or backstage at the Opry wearing a Garth Brooks cowboy hat and eating a Goo Goo.

“Coyotes go where there’s food and where they feel safe,” says Tennessee varmint expert Marc Larese. “The suburbs provide ideal habitat – there’s plenty to eat and nothing to bother them.”

They don’t just hang in the ’burbs, as we discovered last winter. Coyotes – like us – occasionally enjoy a night on Lower Broad, wagging their tails and howling at the moon.

He’s got the answers

If a citified coyote starts acting up in public – say, during a Nashville Symphony concert – who you gonna call?

I suggest Ryan Hall, coyote buster.

His official title is certified wildlife control operator, and he can take care of any wild critter that makes a nuisance of itself, including coyotes.

“Used to, we seldom got a call about a coyote,” says Hall, whose Animal Pros headquarters is based in Hendersonville and serves Nashville and surrounding communities.

“Nowadays we get two or three calls a week, sometimes more.”

This coyote was found lurking in the restroom of the downtown Music City Center.

-- Photograph Provided

Hall is not the only wildlife-control specialist in the Midstate area. Several are listed on the internet. But of the half-dozen I tried to contact for this story – leaving voice messages and emails – Ryan is the only one who responded.

He answered the phone (615 499-5692) on the second ring.

That’s important if you’re fending off a rabid badger or there’s a coyote in your bathroom and you really need to use it. You don’t want to listen to a cheerful recording, “Hi, you have reached…”

Forget leaving a message. You want action.

Hall is your man. Neither rain, sleet, snow or a surly skunk under the patio can deter him.

“When I get a call, I assume it’s important,” says Hall, whose business has been around since 2007.

Hall has 20-plus employees manning a fleet of specialized vehicles. (You don’t transport an unruly groundhog in the backseat of a Beemer.)

A fully equipped Animal Pros agent can be dispatched to anywhere in the Metro area at a moment’s notice. Including Belle Meade.

Upscale predators

That’s right, Belle Meade. Hall has a predator-control contract with Nashville’s silk-stocking district, which we normally don’t associate with wild-critter country.

In Belle Meade, as in other areas, Animal Pros receives calls for help with an array of problem fauna.

“Snakes are big,” Hall explains. “During the summer, we sometimes get as many as 30 snake calls a day. Most of them aren’t venomous. They’re basically harmless.”

That’s little comfort when someone steps on a 6-foot rat snake coiled in their petunias.

Ryan Hall of Animal Pros always gets his critter.

-- Photograph Provided

“I once found a big snake in an attic,” Hall adds. “I went up to check on a flock of nuisance birds that had been living there, and for some reason they were gone. Then I saw why – a snake was coiled in the corner.”

The good news: No more bird poop.

A snake in the attic is not as challenging as a skunk under the house.

You don’t just crawl in, grab him by the tail and drag him out. Not unless the occupants of the house are willing to wear gas masks for the next few days.

“You have to trap a skunk without injuring it or scaring it, then take it away without causing it to throw its scent,” Hall says. “It’s a delicate operation.”

High on the list of suburban wildlife pests is raccoons, whose dexterous paws can open a garbage can or pick the lock on a bank vault if food is involved.

Next is squirrels, which are known to gnaw through electrical wiring in cars and houses, making the rascally rodents potential pyromaniacs.

Possums are another common city-dweller. Although they appear fearsome with their hairless, scaly tails, rows of sharp teeth and sinister hissing, they are harmless.

Usually, if you nudge one with your toe it will roll over and play, well, possum. You can pick it up by the tail and remove it from your mailbox, garbage can, golf bag, etc.

Usually. Occasionally, however, you may encounter a particularly peeved possum that will stand its ground and try to eat your toe. If you encounter a marsupial with a Charles Bronson attitude, call Hall.

Fixing the problem

Back to coyote control, Hall says this is how it generally works: A coyote is spotted slinking around a neighborhood or backyard. A concerned resident calls the police or the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (see sidebar). Unless the animal is deemed “threatening,” the caller is referred to animal-control specialists.

Here’s what happens when Animal Pros is called:

“I or one of my people go check out the situation,” he says. “Then we offer advice on how to deal with the animal.”

There are two options:

Camera surveillance and monitoring. Cameras are set up to observe the coyote’s habits over a period of time. It could be just passing through. Or it might simply decide it’s time to leave Music City in its rear-view mirror, like a discouraged songwriter.

If the varmint doesn’t vamoose and the resident wants it gone, the next step is taken:

First, he sets a snare designed to assure that a pet inadvertently caught is not injured. The snare is baited with a juicy chicken leg or a dab of seductive fox urine. (Fox urine is Channel No. 5 to coyotes.)

Once the coyote is caught, it is killed.

Hall says releasing a trapped a coyote into another area just passes off the problem. Instead of eating your pet Schnoodle, the relocated coyote will eat some else’s.

You won’t find an Ellis Island for coyotes. No rural community, state park or wildlife area is going to offer sanctuary to your howling masses. They already have plenty of coyotes of their own. Thanks, anyway.

“I know it upsets animal-rights folks, but there is only one way to get rid of a coyote,” says Larese, a field rep for a predator-call company who organizes coyote-control hunts in outlying counties.

They keep moving on in

It’s not the coyotes’ fault. They are simply following their predatory instincts and doing what they have to do to survive.

In the wild, coyotes prey on whatever they can catch, from rodents to songbirds. During the spring, new-born fawns are high on the menu.

Wildlife biologists say as many as 50% of baby deer fall prey to coyotes in some areas.

When coyotes move from the wilds to the ‘burbs they still have to hunt to survive, and a coyote doesn’t know it’s doing anything wrong when it eats Snowball.

If we anthropomorphize, a coyote’s characteristics are admirable by people standards: it is intelligent, resourceful, sociable, loyal to its mate, protective of its young and a good provider. It avoids conflict but will fight if necessary, especially if its pups are threatened.

Unlike indigenous wolves, coyotes are an invasive species in Tennessee (as we all are, if we go back far enough). They began migrating from the Southwest 30-40 years ago, and their numbers have exploded in the past two decades.

Coyotes didn’t cause many problems on the lone prairie; the same can’t be said in cities and suburbs. As the coyote population has escalated, so have conflicts with humans and pets.

“As long as coyotes have abundant food and protective habitat – including natural areas, parks and greenways – they are going to thrive in an area,” Hall explains. “We can remove a few specific problem animals, but we’ll never get rid of all of them. They are smart, they are adaptable and they are here to stay.”

Nashville’s newest residents have made themselves right at home and show no inclination of leaving.

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