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Concerns grow over coyotes

May 10, 2008|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

Concerns over recent coyote attacks in the Inland Empire escalated Friday when wildlife officials said two more children in Lake Arrowhead may have been bitten and a woman in Temecula reported having to drive a stubborn coyote out of her house.

"They are behaving abnormally," said Steven Martarano, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game. "They have lost their fear of people for whatever reason."

Two children have been attacked in the last week and a third was stalked by a coyote that was scared off before it could pounce.

On Tuesday, a coyote grabbed a 2-year-old girl by the head and tried to drag her from her Lake Arrowhead driveway. The girl's mother chased the coyote away and the child suffered facial cuts and puncture wounds.

Martarano said he learned Friday that in either February or March, a coyote apparently attacked a 6-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl in Lake Arrowhead as their father barbecued on the back deck. He said the reports have not yet been confirmed, but appeared credible. Both children reportedly were treated for bite wounds.

"The children were playing in a patch of snow about 40 yards away, and the coyote came out of the woods and attacked the boy with bites on the buttocks and then went for the girl and also bit her on the buttocks," Martarano said. "The father and a friend intervened to scare it away, but the coyote lingered nearby."

On Wednesday, a woman in Temecula's Redhawk neighborhood said a coyote had slipped through an open sliding-glass door into a house where she was baby-sitting a 4-year-old.

"She started throwing household items at it, and it finally fled when she hit it with a ruler," said Kevin Brennan, a Fish and Game wildlife biologist. "It is a concern to us because we had bold behavior and the coyote actually entered the house."

In Chino Hills, meanwhile, officials reopened Alterra Park, where a 2-year-old was attacked by a coyote last week while playing in a sandbox. The animal tried to run off with the young girl in its mouth before a nanny frightened it away. The next day, another child was stalked by a coyote before the toddler's father scared it off.

The city closed the park while professional trappers hunted the coyotes. Six were killed, including one with a lame front leg matching the description of the coyote that attacked the girl in the sandbox.

"All we can do is assume we got the offending animal," Brennan said.

But efforts continue in Lake Arrowhead, where one coyote was killed Thursday night, although it is not certain if it was involved in any attack.

Experts say there have been 111 coyote attacks on people in California since the 1970s. A 3-year-old Glendale girl was killed by a coyote in 1981.

"Coyotes are opportunistic predators and, given the chance, they will go after small children who are in the size range of their normal prey," Brennan said. "These are urban coyotes that lose their natural fear of humans. They are living right up next to people, and that's where the trouble begins."

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david.kelly@latimes.com

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