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When it Comes to Coyotes, Seeing is Believing

Increased awareness of the predators, not a population explosion, may be spurring the recent spike in reported sightings.

Michael Perez doesn't have to see them to know they are there.

"Whenever I see posters of missing pets, I say to myself, 'This place has a coyote problem,'" he said. "It's a clear indication."

Perez, a state-licensed trapper with HHS Land Management in Land O'Lakes, said his business is fielding coyote calls with increasing frequency from residents in Pasco, Pinellas, and Hillsborough counties.

"It's been going on for quite a while," he said.

Fellow trapper David Lueck in St. Petersburg also reports a surge in calls from tri-county residents concerned about coyotes.

"Every year, we are getting more and more calls," Lueck said. "The coyote population is definitely expanding."

Maybe, said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Southwest Region office in Lakeland.

Then again, he adds, maybe not.

Florida's coyote population has grown dramatically statewide in the last 30 years, but Morse is skeptical that their numbers in Pasco, Pinellas, and Hillsborough counties have exploded to the extent portrayed in some recent media reports.

"We're getting reports of more coyotes," he conceded, before noting reported sightings spike after coyote stories appear on TV news or in newspapers.

"When people are more aware of  a situation," Morse said, "the tendency is to get more reporting."

Pinellas County Animal Control Operations Manager Gary Andrews and Pasco County Animal Services Manager John Malley agreed that greater awareness and better education programs are generating more local coyote sightings. 

Whether that means there are more coyotes now than there were a few years ago is uncertain, both said.

"We're getting more and more actual sightings primarily because we have educated the public more," Andrews said.

A key component of that awareness and education is that coyotes are here to stay and are a part of the landscape - whether you live on an east Pasco County ranch or in downtown St. Petersburg.

Pasco County residents seem to have gotten that message, Malley said.

"In the last 12 months, no, we haven't heard anything in reference to coyotes," he said. "That doesn't mean they aren't there. It may mean we have done a good job of telling people that that is something Fish and Wildlife takes care of."

Web links:

Pinellas County coyote page

Pinellas County coyote-sighting interactive map

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