Coyotes, long considered among the most adaptable creatures on Earth, are adjusting well to the good life on the streets of Beverly Hills.
City officials, alarmed by reports of several coyote sightings on city streets just north of Wilshire Boulevard, far below the brush-covered hills where the wily mammals usually roam, recently called in animal control experts from Los Angeles County to see if anything could be done to catch the foraging critters.
The sightings are bad news for owners of small pets in the upscale Westside community, some of whom have made grisly discoveries during the last two months.
Although neither city nor county animal officers know how many animals have been killed, neighbors in one area believe that the coyotes may be responsible for the disappearance of nearly a dozen cats.
Veterinarians and animal control officials say that because of the drought, coyotes are venturing farther into the urban flatlands of Los Angeles in search of food and water.
"I think you're feeling the impact of a couple of years of dry weather," said Richard Wightman, supervising agricultural inspector for the county. "But there's definitely more (coyote) activity this year than in previous years."
Wightman said the county has received six calls from Beverly Hills residents reporting coyote sightings. City officials said they don't know how many calls they've received, but they are concerned because the sightings "were right in the middle of town."
Many of the sightings have occurred in a small, highly developed area between Rexford Drive and Doheny Drive just north of Wilshire and south of Santa Monica Boulevard. Several people have spotted coyotes wandering around commercial areas, foraging in garbage cans behind banks, offices and restaurants.
It was in that area where Beverly Hills resident Peggy Brisbane made a gruesome find one morning while walking her two dogs. Brisbane relayed her sad tale to the City Council at a meeting in early September.
Brisbane said her yellow cat, Squeaker, had disappeared for several days, not even bothering to stop by her Rexford Drive home for replenishment.
"So, I took my dogs around the block one morning, and as I was going up Elm Drive, I saw this yellow thing on a lawn," Brisbane said. "I looked closer and there was Squeaker, in various parts. It was a terrible thing to see.
"I saw a neighbor and told him, 'Look at what happened to Squeaker.' Later, another man in the neighborhood told me that he had found another cat that had been killed nearby."
It was not the first time one of Brisbane's pets had a run-in with a coyote. She said that about three years ago, she heard one of her cats yowl, and when she opened the screen door leading to her back yard, she saw the cat tucked firmly within the jaws of a coyote.
"I went tearing out in my nightgown with a golf club in my hand," she said. "I hit it in the back of the head with the golf club, and the coyote dropped the cat and ran off. The cat wasn't moving so I thought it was dead, but as it turned out, it was just frozen scared."
Animal experts don't recommend approaching coyotes. Instead, they suggest that concerned pet lovers keep their small animals, as well as all dog and cat food, inside. Wightman said attacks on humans are rare, with only 14 reported coyote attacks on people in Los Angeles County since 1975.
County officials trap about 100 coyotes each year, but they report that it doesn't affect the overall coyote population.
Dr. John Winters, a veterinarian at the Beverly Hills Small Animal Hospital, said the number of coyote sightings in the hills and the flatlands "have definitely increased," but he added that there's no way to tell if the wolf-like animals are responsible for more pets disappearing.
"It's just a case where the coyote's natural habitat has been infringed upon due to all the construction in the hillsides," Winters said. "Man has created the situation, but the coyote is very adaptable, probably the most adaptable mammal on Earth."
Although the ranks of other predators, such as grizzly bears, cougars and wolves, have been decimated or isolated in preserves during the last century, wildlife experts say the coyote has flourished, expanding its range from a few states to every state but Hawaii.
Adjusts to Urban Life
In addition, wildlife experts say that the coyote, always a supreme opportunist, has adjusted well to urban life, feasting on back-yard fruit trees, rodents, insects, birds and, of course, small house pets.
City officials from Beverly Hills, which contracts with the county for coyote and rodent control, met with Wightman two weeks ago, asking if anything could be done to solve the problem.
Wightman, however, said it was doubtful that any traps could be set for the coyotes around the commercial and residential streets because of the safety hazard for people and other animals.
"If a person complains and their yard lends itself to trapping, then we might do it," he said. "But in most of Beverly Hills, that's not the case.
"It's an ongoing problem throughout the county. That's the thing about coyotes. They are survivors, and they'll do anything they can to make sure that they're doing well."