They look harmless, almost like a dog, but coyotes are not pets and can be dangerous.
Residents in Lowcountry neighborhoods are seemingly hearing and seeing the wild animals more than ever before.
Many are left wondering what to do while others are asking for something to be done about it.
Coyotes came to South Carolina about 30 years ago. Although they’ve been seen in every county in the state, the sightings are usually few and far between.
But on Hilton Head during the last two years, they have become more frequent. For neighbors in several spots, hearing them has become a regular event.
In a video from one Chinaberry Ridge resident, you can hear howling, braying and barking coming from woods behind some neighbors houses.
Lynne Wood lives in the area. She says she’s heard it herself.
“It’s just like a siren goes off and you can hear them,” said Wood. “The siren may be on Gumtree Road but they are in here, howling like crazy. Like a dog would howl to a whistle. They just go off like a chorus.”
That sound is coyotes. They’ve been heard or seen in the woods behind homes in Chinaberry Ridge, Hilton Head Plantation, Sea Pines and in Bluffton.
“There’s been a lot of sightings,” said Wood. “People hear the howling and we need to get it under control.”
Wood fears that the herd is being checked or culled, and is getting bigger.
Vicki Watts went before town council last week to express her concern.
Her dog Fletcher was attacked in the neighborhood just two years ago. He was nearly torn apart by the coyotes and has had to have five surgeries to fix his injuries.
“That’s what I really want to tell town council. Please look at it, make a decision, and protect us,” said Lynne. “The Island needs the protection.”
Lt. David Lucas of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says that, while rare, small animals and even small children could be targeted by coyote packs if left unattended.
“Coyotes are highly adaptive so they can thrive in rural woods and can adapt themselves to urban and suburban environments and frequently do,” he said. “If they are in an urban or suburban environment they get used to people, they get bolder, less inclined to run away and more inclined to stand their ground because they’ve gotten used to people.”
Lucas says you can help stop the animals from coming to your streets just by doing a few simple things:
- Build a fence, but make sure it is dug at least two feet underground to stop coyotes or any animals from digging.
- Add more lighting to your yard to scare away animals who want to hide in the dark of night.
“The main thing you want to do is not leave pet food out, not leave garbage out. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat just about anything,” explained Lucas.
More information from the South Carolina DNR on coyotes: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/coyote/index.html
Experts say if they are around, coyotes are hard to trap. They are very wary of anything, especially humans.
So while many are asking for a larger scale extinction program — others want to take things into their own hands, and shoot them themselves.
But Lucas says you need to think twice before taking aim.
“If you are thinking about shooting coyotes, ask yourself is it legal to shoot firearms at all where I’m at?” said Lucas. “And if you are in an urban city environment or even some county places, depending on zoning regulations, it may not be legal to shoot firearms at all where you are at.”
Hilton Head town code only allows the shooting of small animals such as squirrels, rabbits, and quail.
Coyote facts from South Carolina DNR:
- Average adult coyote is 35 pounds but can exceed 50 pounds.
- Coyotes are mostly grayish-brown to reddish-tan; nearly all black is not uncommon.
- Coyotes reproduce in late winter, have a 63 day gestation period, and produce 5-7 pups per litter.
- As evidenced in other states with long-established coyote populations, expanding coyote populations are likely to impact local deer and small game. However, overtime coyote populations are expected to stabilize allowing deer, turkey, and small game to still exist in healthy numbers in South Carolina.
The Town of Hilton Head says they are looking into the coyote situation, but when News 3 pushed them for answers on what could be done or what their plans might be, no one would give details or any plans.
The state is considering a “bounty” on coyotes. A bill would give people incentive and the ability to cut the population themselves.
But that bill has come up before and still hasn’t passed through committee this time.
News 3 will continue to follow this story.