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Aggressive Coyotes Arouse Fear, Close Park

July 22, 1987|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ | Times Staff Writer

'Those coyotes saw us and came after us like gangbusters. They went crazy.'

The National Park Service closed the 2,100-acre Cheeseboro Canyon Park in Agoura Hills Tuesday after horseback riders reported that they were chased Monday evening by three "extremely aggressive coyotes."

The incident occurred two days after another rider said he was attacked by a similar pack of animals.

After closing the park, officials learned of a third incident involving a local resident who said he and his wife were chased down a hill by three coyotes.

Park rangers posted signs Tuesday prohibiting entrance to Cheeseboro Canyon, closing off the popular nature preserve to about 200 weekly visitors who ride horseback and hike on eight miles of trails.

It was the first time the park has been closed since the National Park Service took over in 1978, a park service spokesman said.

"Until we are sure that there is no unreasonable danger to the public, the park will remain closed," said Daniel Kuehn, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area.

Mounted and armed park rangers Tuesday surveyed a half-mile canyon area at dusk, duplicating the time and place of both reported coyote incidents, said Phillip Young, supervising park ranger. Young said rangers would shoot the animals if they attack or display aggressive behavior.

However, the rangers returned after dark without sighting any coyotes.

The park will remain closed on a day-to-day basis, pending a report from rangers on their Tuesday night experience.

In the first and most serious incident, 42-year-old Michael Rizzo of Agoura, reported he was bitten in an attack by three coyotes about 8 p.m. Saturday while horseback riding in a remote canyon area. Rizzo suffered two puncture wounds and scratches on his right arm and is undergoing a series of anti-rabies shots. The animals also nipped and scratched the legs of Rizzo's horse.

Monday night, an Agoura Hills couple riding in the same area at about the same time reported that they were chased for more than a mile by three yelping coyotes.

"They were at full gallop for more than a mile, shouting, trying to scare the coyotes off," Young said. He said the animals backed off about a half-mile from the canyon's entrance, near several houses. The identities of the couple were not released. They were not injured.

"We were hoping the first report was an isolated aberration and would not happen again," Kuehn said. "But, with this second report in the same place, we believe we have a problem out there."

Park officials and animal experts were at a loss Tuesday to explain the vicious behavior of the animals and speculated that they may be wild dogs that look like coyotes.

By nature, coyotes attack small animals such as squirrels and rabbits. In the Santa Monica Mountains, coyotes usually hunt alone, said Eric Hughes, a veterinarian with the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control.

"Coyotes normally do not go into settings that are potentially dangerous and never go after anything that is larger than themselves," Hughes said. "From what I can see, these seem to act more like feral dogs."

Hughes said that even a rabid coyote normally would not travel in a pack because the disease would cause it to fight other coyotes.

During a news conference announcing the park's closure, three stray dogs moved out from the brush and walked past rangers and reporters, prompting Young to issue a warning not to feed the animals. He said hungry stray or wild animals could turn against the hands that feed them.

Harry Jones, a 12-year resident of the area, approached Young after the news conference to report that he, too, had been chased by coyotes over the weekend.

Jones, 56, said he and his wife were walking their dog at dusk Friday when they spotted three animals about 100 yards away.

"Those coyotes saw us and came after us like gangbusters. They went crazy," Jones said. He said he and his wife ran down the hill, and the animals came within 25 yards of them before turning away.

"Believe me, I love this area and consider it my backyard," Jones said. "But I'm not going back up there until those coyotes are gone."

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