Roswell’s trapping and killing of coyotes divides animal lovers

Mary Baron enjoys watching coyotes from the windows of her Sandy Springs home. They usually keep their distance in an open pasture but there’s been a couple of closer encounters. Last month, she saw a coyote stroll around her neighbor’s property, she said.

And two years ago, while in her yard, Baron and her two dogs saw a coyote staring at them from several yards away.

“My dogs were barking at it,” she said. “I waved my hand for it to go away. Instead of going away it sat down. As soon as I was back inside it got up and walked away.”

Baron is usually unbothered by coyotes. She’s often snapped photos of them but that day she was nervous, she said. And the yipping sounds at night can be chilling.

While Baron remains neutral on the divisive topic, many north Fulton residents are passionately for or against trapping and killing the wily creatures. Hundreds of people spoke out against the practice on a March Facebook post by the Atlanta Coyote Project that objected to coyote trapping at Roswell Area Park in north Fulton. Project founder Chris Mowry and commenters on his post said trapping is inhumane.

“Any coyote that is trapped is euthanized,” Mowry said. “There’s no relocation (of coyotes). That’s a myth. It’s illegal to release the coyote elsewhere. Generally it’s euthanized right away.”

Trappers are required by law to kill a trapped coyote on site unless the location has an ordinance against the discharge of a gun, said Tina Johannsen, a biologist in the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. In that case, the trapper can take the coyote to another location to kill it, she said.

The DNR does not track the overall coyote population in the state, but the agency estimates how many are trapped and killed by hunters. The most recent data from 2018 shows an estimated 116,000 coyotes in Georgia were targeted and captured by hunters that year. And another estimated 125,000 coyotes were killed incidentally by deer hunters.

Roswell hired Atlanta Wildlife Relocators in February after a coyote jumped the fence of a backyard that abuts Roswell Area Park and attacked a small dog, park manager Taylor Smith said. The city receives constant calls from residents concerned about coyotes, he added.

Smith said three to four coyotes were caught in a foothold trap during four weeks of February and March.

Many, including Mowry and Brandon Sanders of Sanders Wildlife, think foothold traps are inhumane because a trapped animal is in pain and can mutilate itself trying to escape.

“Paws get mangled,” Sanders said. “They might try to eat off their paw if they stay in the trap too long.”

Coyote advocates are countered on social media platforms by residents who support trapping.

Michael Angela Voyles, who lives less than an hour from Atlanta in Jasper, told commenters on the Atlanta Coyote Project’s Facebook post that trapping is for their protection.

“We live on the wildlife management area and have had numerous encounters,” Voyles said. “Coyotes are dangerous, wild animals … All they’re worried about is their next meal whether it be a dog, cat, small child or an adult … They surrounded us one night and we had to get into our truck and wait on them to back off.”

Currently, Roswell’s trapping of coyotes is limited.

Smith told the AJC that park officials and staff recognize coyotes are part of the ecosystem and they aren’t trying to remove all coyotes from the city’s 1,110 acres of parkland. Superintendent of Parks Rusty Pruitt confirmed coyote trapping isn’t a regular occurrence and hasn’t taken place at other Roswell parks.

But parks officials do, at times, monitor the animals’ behavior through cameras set-up along park trails.

“Coyotes don’t want to be around you any more than you want to be around them,” Smith said. “We look to see are they coming up to staff or contractors … or getting aggressive. Or are they in the middle of a playground during the day.”

Mowry, who is also a biologist, said he understands Roswell must protect residents and their pets.

“I’m not saying this is an easy solution,” he said. “There must be a better solution that doesn’t result in the killing of coyotes.”

Mowry said the doglike animals, which can weigh up to 45 pounds, control the rodent population and trapping them actually leads to increased breeding.

“It’s biology and counter intuitive,” Mowry said. “You wipe out populations initially but the coyotes remaining have more resources available to them. Litter sizes increase. More pups survive because there are more resources and less competition.”

Coyotes conceived in January stay in the den until May. Mowry said both parents are involved in feeding and raising coyote pups. The trapping of either parent destroys a small family unit, he said.

“When you trap, you don’t know if you’re getting mom or dad or a transient coyote,” Mowry said. “It’s not like (coyotes) are this big pack of animals. They’re a small family group.”