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Coyotes master fitting into South Florida's urban sprawl. But what's on their menu?

Bill Kearney, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Outdoors

John Ciccarelli and his buddy Ernest Slavis were out for an innocent Christmas Eve of Catholic Mass followed by some gambling.

After worship at St. Maurice at Resurrection Catholic Church, they headed across the street to the Casino @ Dania Beach, where they expected an adrenaline rush from a good hand, not a wild animal.

Around midnight, when their luck flattened, they took a break in Slavis’ car. That’s when Ciccarelli noticed what he assumed was a mid-sized stray dog moving confidently across the nearly empty parking lot.

“He was trotting, almost like a beeline,” said Ciccarelli, a professional golf instructor from Jupiter. “He got to the front of our vehicle, and I had my peepers on him, and I said, ‘Boy that’s an interesting dog.’ When he got within 20 feet I said, ‘My God that’s a coyote!’” — the first one he’d ever seen.

The wild canine stood motionless in front of the car for about 20 seconds. “He came just far enough for us to see, like he was showing off, maybe. I was shocked.” said Ciccarelli. It turned around and trotted back west at the same pace, and disappeared around the building.

Coyote sightings like Ciccarelli’s are not new in South Florida, but they seem to be happening more and more in urban areas.

 

Recent sightings in the region include a spate in Margate, where several residents believe their cats fell victim to coyotes, and another resident spied a coyote patrolling a canal and snacking on an iguana. Parkland hired a trapper after being told by the state to learn to put up with the coyotes. More cats have fallen prey in Palm Beach Gardens and back in 2019, a dog was mauled in Delray Beach. Residents in Sunrise believed coyotes are hunting the ducks there. In 2020, one of the wild canines sauntered into a fire station in Fort Lauderdale.

Are coyotes going through a population boom?

“That’s a difficult question to answer,” said Jayne Johnson, senior wildlife assistance biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “There’s certainly been a much larger human population growth in the area … Coyotes tend to encounter more people because there’s more people there.”

A look at the FWCs interactive public coyote map indicates that most sightings indeed occur not in wilderness spaces, but in areas with high human population densities — there have been hundreds of sightings in both Palm Beach and Broward counties in the past 24 months.

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