With coyote sightings on the rise in The Woodlands, officials offer safety tips for encounters

February 8, 2019 GMT

Residents of The Woodlands don’t often have to be reminded that they live in a more natural environment than most suburban communities around the Houston region, as the heavily wooded area conjured by George Mitchell harbors wildlife of all sorts, both harmless and potentially dangerous.

That could change when coming in contact with a coyote for the first time, something that is on the rise in the township. In early December, township Director Bruce Rieser issued a warning to residents about the increase in coyote sightings in the community — especially around the area of the intersection of Research Forest Drive and Grogan’s Mill Road — and offered warnings and safety tips.

Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Kelly Norrid said coyotes are fairly common in southeast Texas. They’re not typically aggressive — having grown accustomed to human developments long ago — but can still be dangerous if not dealt with appropriately.

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“Coyote attacks are extraordinarily rare,” Norrid said. “They’re typically more afraid of people than we are of them.”

Wildlife biologist Diana Foss said the key to staying safe in a coyote encounter is recognizing its behavior. If a coyote is staring at a person or not leaving the area when shooed away it is a sign of curiosity — and potential aggression, she said.

“It kind of shocks you into standing and watching and staring,” Foss said.

Norrid said the common myth of coyotes eating pets doesn’t hold up well statistically. In a study done on conflicts between coyotes and humans in Cook County, Illinois, Ohio State University scientists found that coyote diets were not altered by the presence of humans.

They found much of what they expected in stool samples — diets consisted mainly of small rodents, white-tailed deer fawn, fruit and rabbits — only 2 percent of the food items found came from human-made sources and 1 percent of the stool samples were made up up domestic house cats.

In a smaller-scale replication of the study done in the greater Houston area, Foss said, not one sample held traces of dogs, cats or pet food laid out by humans — the closest thing to something out of the ordinary from a coyote’s diet, she said, was a single napkin.

“People shouldn’t be afraid, they should be cautious — it’s a wild animal,” Foss said.

Norrid encouraged residents to try to scare the animal away if encountered.

“As long as you’re seeing the tail end of a coyote, you’re fine,” Norrid said.

mrincon@chron.com