Usually, when I walk home late at night, I keep my eyes peeled for creepy humans, but last evening I was followed down the street by a coyote. I had no idea what to do.
The coyote and I met at an intersection — it was walking down to the street I was taking to my apartment, about one block away. We both seemed surprised. The area has a lot of nature, but it isn’t rural by any stretch of the imagination. It is close to Griffith Park in Los Angeles, which has a lot of wildlife, including many coyotes. I’ve seen them there, but I was always with a large group of people, so the coyotes steered clear.
It walked away, then came back; it followed me as I retreated and tried to remember what I should do. I wanted very much to run, but didn’t do so until I turned a corner out of its glinty-eyed view. The next morning, I spoke with Martine Colette, director Wildlife Way Station. She said that sort of encounter has become a “fairly common situation these days.”
“Our native wildlife have had no options except to become urbanized,” she continued. “Our urban sprawl has been so significant in encroaching into all areas where wildlife lives. They’ve really have not much choice but to learn how to live with us. They have done a fairly good job at it!”
Colette says people are a great resource for wild animals: We leave dog food out, grow fruit trees, and strew garbage, which attracts (delicious) rodents. Because of this, according to Colette, it’s up to us to learn to live with them. And when there’s a coyote, wild dog or wallaby on your lawn, you should know how to get safely to your front door.
Don’t feed the wildlife
Since the coyote didn’t attack me, Colette says it was probably just curious about my appearance or smell. And it might have thought I’d feed it.
“People also feed coyotes, which is a very dangerous thing to do. Once an animal associates food with people, they’ll be waiting for a hand out.”
She adds that even if the animal doesn’t attack you on purpose, they might bite you accidentally while trying to take food. It also obviously creates situations where they approach the wrong, unsuspecting human. Don’t feed the animals, no matter how cool it seems.
Hide your dog
Colette told me that I’m “too big” for a coyote to kill, and they don’t normally eat people anyway. But if you have a small dog and a predatory animal like a dingo or a territorial animal like a kangaroo is following you both, they probably think that shih tzu is a tasty snack/easy foe. Colette recommends picking up your dog and stuffing it in your jacket until you get away from the animal, to remove temptation.
When to stand your ground
People will often say that when you encounter a large predator, you should stand your ground and make yourself look big to scare it off; in the moment, however, that seemed unnecessarily antagonistic. I asked Colette if that’s what I should have done.
“My suggestion is if the animal is following you, keep an eye on it and go about your business,” she said. Most of the time, they aren’t particularly interested in you and are just trying to see if you’re a threat or have food. But you need to be aware — what are the animal’s intentions?
(It is important to note that this can go for lost or wild cats and dogs, which should always be approached with caution. Call the RSPCA with the information on the wild animal if you don't feel comfortable catching it yourself.)
If the coyote was after you and had bad intentions, or if you’re hiking somewhere and come across a bear and mountain lion, you can stop and put your jacket over your head to make yourself as tall and broad as you can and talk in a stern voice; don’t approach the animal and hold your ground. If it’s prudent to do so, step back and stop; step back and stop.
If you’re feeling threatened, try to arm yourself immediately: “Pick up a stick, a rock, a stone — if you have a purse, throw your purse.”
Being big and loud can help to scare off most Australian predatory animals, as we generally outsize them (except for some of the bigger Kangaroos, but they aren't technically predators - they're just looking for a fight).
If all else fails some name calling and swearing might help.
Never, ever run
After I turned the corner, I did run away, but I’m very glad I had the sense not to do so in front of the coyote. Colette says that would have been a huge mistake.
“Never never run, I don’t care what it is, never run. It triggers that prey predator mechanism when you start to run. All predators have a mechanism to chase anything that runs.”
They can’t help it, so you have to restrain yourself. This is also a problem for joggers in the bush, where unsuspecting runners have gotten too close to a Kangaroo's territory while running and been attacked out of the blue. If this happens remain calm and curl into a ball to protect your torso from being scratched open - while also kicking at the Kangaroo's legs to deter it from continuing.
Always remain a safe distance from a kangaroo and keep an eye out for signs of aggression - like growling, scratching their stomach or standing on their toes.
Carry a walking stick
If you’re planning on going on a hike somewhere you might encounter a large predator, Colette suggests carrying a walking stick. She likens it to a whip or chair used by animal handlers in a circus — the real purpose of these items isn’t showmanship, it’s extending the length of the arm for the person holding it. But this isn’t just a suggestion for hikes, as my experience shows. If you’re walking a small dog at night, bring a walking stick with you just in case.
“It will make you feel better and when you have more confidence, it gives your stature a different look,” says Colette. Demeanour is important because “they read fear very well.”