PHOENIX - Living just eight miles north of downtown in an established neighborhood, Ron Deplazes was a little surprised the first time he saw a coyote running down the street.
“There were a couple hanging around here,” Deplazes said. “Sometimes I’d leave early in the morning and I’d see them run around the corner.”
Coyotes make themselves at home around the Valley, surprising locals who don’t expect to see wild animals amid pruned lawns, swimming pools and golf courses that aren’t all that close to open desert.
Coyote encounters aren’t new here, but incidents in recent months have called attention to their presence. Federal officials killed two coyotes in the swanky Biltmore area after residents reported that the creatures acted aggressively. Some residents of a Mesa neighborhood reported that coyotes had made meals of their pets.
Robert Young, owner of All Animals Rescue and Transport, has responded to calls about coyotes just three miles from downtown Phoenix. He said he gets calls every day from people concerned about coyotes in their neighborhoods.
“They think they’re going to attack their children and their dogs,” Young said. “And in most cases, that’s simply not true.”
As much as some people might want them out, coyotes are here to stay.
It is difficult and expensive to remove them, and the fix is only temporary. As long as neighborhoods have the food, water and shelter that entices them, coyotes will live in urban areas, experts say.
“There are probably twice as many coyotes in urban areas as there are out in the desert,” said Darren Julian, an urban wildlife specialist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “There’s reasons why these animals live in the Valley.”
The Game and Fish Department has held neighborhood meetings to educate people about staying safe and protecting pets. By feeding pets indoors, covering garbage and trimming shrubs that provide shelter, residents can reduce their homes’ allure, sending coyotes elsewhere.
In building a little piece of the Midwest in the desert, Valley residents have created a cozy habitat for coyotes. Fountains, parks, greenbelts and golf courses attract rabbits, rodents and other coyote delicacies.
Those artificial habitats, on top of natural travel corridors such as washes and riverbeds, make life easy for coyotes in the city, Julian said.
“I guarantee, these urban coyotes, they have no idea there’s a drought going on,” he said.
The Game and Fish Department doesn’t remove coyotes from neighborhoods unless they pose a threat to public health or safety, such as showing signs of rabies or behaving aggressively.
Companies such as Allen Animal Control can remove coyotes for a fee. But owner Joel Allen says it’s only a temporary fix, especially if the food and shelter that attract predators aren’t removed.
Allen usually tells concerned callers that the coyotes will eventually exhaust their food source and move on.
“I try to go toward the side of compassion and work with the animals,” he said. “We’re here, they’re here.”
Despite the recent public concern, coyotes don’t often injure people. Maricopa County has seen 12 coyote incidents in the last 10 years, generally bites and scratches, according to the Game and Fish Department.