Frisco animal experts focus on wildlife education in wake of coyote attacks

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After a coyote believed to be responsible for attacking four people in Frisco was captured in December, city and state officials immediately began investigating why the animal became aggressive.

Nearly every possibility—including whether it had rabies or was protecting a litter of pups—was ruled out, leaving the most likely scenario: The coyote had at some point become too accustomed to people and lost its natural fear of humans. Officials have the same theory for a coyote attack that occurred in late January.

Instances such as these are why Frisco Animal Services strives to prepare the public for living with wildlife. Education is key to healthy interactions between people and animals, Frisco Animal Services Supervisor Steven Lerner said.

Based on the number of calls Animal Services receives each year, Lerner said the department’s efforts are working. The number of calls regarding wildlife in Frisco has dropped from 4,721 in 2014 to 2,725 in 2018, despite a growing population, according to Animal Services data.

“We want to see that number go down,” Lerner said. “We feel like we’re being successful when that number goes down.”

Along with educating the public, Animal Services personnel want to understand local wildlife better. That is one of the reasons the city launched an interactive map in January to track coyote sightings. The map is expected to help Animal Services understand coyote behavior so personnel can, in turn, help the public learn to coexist with wildlife.

Urban wildlife

Sam Kieschnick, an urban wildlife biologist with Texas Parks & Wildlife, said an animal has three choices when development disturbs its habitat: It can die, move out or adapt. Most animals choose to adapt, he said.

“This is what we see with successful urban wildlife is that they adapt to our development; they adapt to our urban structures,” Kieschnick said.

Wildlife in urban settings become opportunistic, Kieschnick said. They learn to find shelter in man-made structures, such as within cracks in building walls, under porches or inside sheds. They also learn to find food where they can, including in trash cans, in pet food bowls left outside or, for carnivorous animals, with small pets left unattended.

These instances are where most people encounter wildlife. More sightings also occur around February when a lot of animals begin mating, said Prudence Koeninger, co-founder of DFW Wildlife Hotline. The hotline connects people with local animal rehabilitators and instructs the public on ways to humanely evict animals from houses and buildings.

“Until people have an urban wildlife situation, they don’t necessarily realize how much urban wildlife we are coexisting with,” Koeninger said.

The vast majority of wildlife encounters are non-life-threatening situations, Kieschnick said. In fact most animals do their best to get away when people are around, he said.

“The critters that are left here—like coyotes, bobcats, possums and raccoons—none of them had a history of being at the top of the food chain,” he said. “… Avoidance is the way that these things survive.”

Fear of people is healthy behavior for wildlife, Kieschnick said. But this behavior can change if people begin to intentionally feed them, he said.

“When we start to feed wildlife, it starts to look at us as food dispensers, and that’s a really bad behavior,” Kieschnick said.

That is why the first thing Animal Services teaches the public is to leave wildlife alone, Lerner said.

“That includes not trying to touch them, not trying to feed them, not trying to approach them, not trying to bring them home, not trying to put them in your car,” he said. “These are all things that have occurred in our city: people with very good intentions but not the right outcomes.”

The aggressive coyote in Frisco was possibly fed by someone, which may have led to it losing its natural fear of people, Kieschnick said.

“We really do believe that at some point in time there was something, and this animal didn’t stay wild,” Lerner said.

Animal Services’ educational efforts focus on ways people can have healthy boundaries with wildlife. That means not leaving trash outside overnight, trimming overgrown vegetation around homes, teaching children to leave wildlife alone and restraining pets when they are outside, Lerner said.

“I don’t want people to be afraid of wildlife; I want wildlife to be afraid of us,” Lerner said.

Coyote map

Though it is only about a month old, the interactive coyote map is already helping Animal Services, Lerner said. The map, which is available online or through the myFrisco app on a smartphone, allows the public to fill in data to report sightings. Sightings, which can be categorized as aggressive or nonaggresive, are immediately placed on the map.

Animal Services and Texas Wildlife Services are studying the map daily to see if any patterns emerge.

They have already discovered that more sightings occur on trash nights, Lerner said. The coyotes have likely learned to look for food on those nights, Lerner said. That information helps Animal Services focus their efforts on trash-related education in certain neighborhoods.

Lerner said this is no surprise but rather a confirmation of what wildlife experts already know.

“It’s one thing to know this on paper; it’s another thing to actually see it right there on the map,” he said.

It will be several months before both Animal Services and Texas Wildlife Services have enough data to draw concrete conclusions about coyotes in Frisco, Lerner said.

“In time we’ll have a lot more data, and that’s the exciting part of that is that we’re going to see patterns,” he said.

Development and wildlife

Though they live in urban settings, wildlife tend to use creeks as corridors to move about the city, Kieschnick said.

That is one reason why Frisco works with developers to accommodate wildlife near creeks and wetlands, Development Services Director John Lettelleir said.

The city recently implemented a new Neighborhood Design Strategy. One of the new standards provides a wider buffer between residential developments and creeks.

“It’s the value of the open space that provides value to the development, but it also preserves that natural habitat,” Lettelleir said.

Kieschnick also works with cities to encourage development that is wildlife-friendly, such as promoting open space in commercial areas and no-mow areas in parks. These green spaces act as refuges for wildlife, he said.

“Interacting with wildlife should be a fun experience. It should be an exciting experience to see wildlife and to enjoy it,” he said.

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Lindsey Juarez
Lindsey has been involved in newspapers in some form since high school. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2014 with a degree in Journalism. While attending UTA, she worked for The Shorthorn, the university's award-winning student newspaper. She was hired as Community Impact Newspaper's first Frisco reporter in 2014. Less than a year later, she took over as the editor of the Frisco edition. Since then, she has covered a variety of topics and issues important to the community, including the city's affordable housing shortage, the state's controversial A-F school accountability system and the city's "Bury the Lines" efforts.
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