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Some Wildlife in Los Angeles County

Coyote, Griffith Park

A coyote trips a motion-triggered camera in Griffith Park in 2015. Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service via Flickr.

COYOTES

In the early 2000s, it was estimated that more than 5,000 coyotes roamed the city of Los Angeles and thousands more lived throughout the rest of the county. With a 2016 California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimate of 250,000 to 750,000 coyotes throughout California and the apparent success of the animal in Southern California, that number is probably much larger today. Mostly, these animals live in hills in and around our communities. These include the the southern foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Montebello and Whittier hills, the Verdugo Mountains, San Rafael Hills and Santa Monica and Sierra Pelona Mountains. Coyotes have also been active, among other places, in the Dominguez Hills area, Manhattan Beach, Baldwin Hills and Culver City, Griffith Park, Pacific Palisades, Westwood and Whittier. When not in or near hills, coyotes are known to travel along the county's network of washes.

Coyotes are highly intelligent, master adaptors and possess excellent sensory abilities. Urbanized coyotes can survive on a variety of foods including garbage, feedings by people, food left out for pets and small pets themselves. A 2019 study by the National Park Service, after collecting coyote scat over two and a half years, found remains in specimens of work gloves, rubber bands, condoms and even a piece of computer keyboard. Another researcher found remains of baseballs, shoes, pieces of furniture and bedazzled jewels in stomach contents of coyotes killed on roads. Apparently, ornamental fruit, found in many private yards, is a significant attraction to coyotes (including fruit from palm trees). This fruit makes up about 25 percent of an urban coyote's diet. The abundance of fruit, in turn, brings coyotes in contact with their next large source of food: small pets. Cats were found to make up as much as 20 percent of the diet of urban coyotes in the Los Angeles area (a "high-cat diet," as described by reporter Katherine Gammon in The Guardian). Several decades ago, the Los Angeles Zoo even had to deal with coyotes feeding on zoo exhibits. In 1987, coyotes attacked and killed 53 flamingoes at the Los Angeles Zoo. They also victimized penguins. In 1995, coyotes managed to kill flamingoes again, as well as a two-year-old Andean Condor. The zoo followed that incident with the installation of a six and a half-mile perimeter fence surrounding their facility.

Coyotes are tolerant of human activities and quick to adapt and adjust to changes in their environment. They tend to lose their natural aversion to people when competition for food increases among coyotes. The biggest problems occur when people feed coyotes - either wittingly or unwittingly (such as leaving pet food outdoors). Although coyote attacks, when they occur, are commonly directed against small animals and pets, coyotes have attacked humans in very rare incidents. In one study of coyote attacks between 1978 and 2003, there were 37 reported attacks on humans in Los Angeles County.

Coyote Attacks, Los Angeles County, 1978-2003

Date Location Incident
May 1978 Pasadena 5-yr-old girl bitten on left leg while in driveway of home
May 1979 Pasadena 2-yr-old girl attacked by coyote while eating cookies on front porch; grabbed by throat and cheek
Jun 1979 Pasadena Adult male bitten on heel while picking up newspaper from front yard
Jul 1979 Pasadena 17-yr-old female's leg lacerated by coyotes while attempting to save dog being attacked
Jul 1979 Pasadena Coyote bit adult male on legs while jogging; climbed tree to escape
Aug 1979 La Verne Coyote grabbed 5-yr-old girl and attempted to drag her into bushes. Suffered deep bites on neck, head, and legs before saved by father and a neighbor
July 1980 Agoura Hills 13-month-old girl grabbed and dragged off by coyote. Suffered puncture wounds to midsection before being saved by mother
Aug 1981 Glendale 3-yr-old girl killed in front yard by coyote; massive bleeding and broken neck
Oct 1994 Griffith Park (Los Angeles) Man with no shirt or shoes bitten by coyote (5 PM)
Mar 1995 Griffith Park (Los Angeles) Man with no shirt bitten by coyote (Noon)
Mar 1995 Griffith Park (Los Angeles) Coyote stalked and then knocked down 5-yr-old girl twice; mother rescued child (Daytime)
Jun 1995 Griffith Park (Los Angeles) Woman in shorts, barefoot, preparing food, bitten by coyote (Daytime)
Jul 1995 Griffith Park (Los Angeles) Man bitten by coyote while sleeping on lawn (2:45 PM)
Jul 1995 Griffith Park (Los Angeles) Man bitten by coyote while sleeping on lawn (4 PM)
Jul 1995 Griffith Park (Los Angeles) Coyote was chased away once; then returned to attack 15-mo-old girl in jumpsuit; child suffered bites to leg (4 PM)
Sep 1997 Pomona Man was stalked, then attacked by two coyotes, and bitten on ankle (Early evening, daylight)
May 1999 Canyon Country Coyote attacked dog in yard, and would not cease attack; man scratched in melee (Night)
Nov 1999 Hollywood Hills (Los Angeles) Coyote attacked and killed pet dog in man’s presence; coyote would not leave (Morning)
Apr 2001 Pomona 54-year-old woman fought, using an axe handle, with a large coyote that had attacked small poodle in back yard. Received bite on leg, and despite her efforts, the coyote killed the poodle and jumped over fence carrying the carcass (4:30 PM)
Jun 2001 Northridge (Los Angeles) 7-year-old girl attacked and seriously injured by a coyote, despite mother's attempts to fight off the coyote (7 PM)
Aug 2001 Hollywood Hills (Los Angeles) Coyotes bit man 8 times as he was defending his dog against their attack (11:50 PM)
Aug 2001 Chatsworth (Los Angeles) Two coyotes came into yard and took pet cat out of hands of 19-mo-old toddler
Sep 2001 Agoura Woman attacked by coyote when she attempted to stop its attack on her small dog (7:15 AM)
Sep 2001 Lancaster Man walking encountered 4 coyotes, which crouched, circling him, attempting to attack. Fought off with walking stick, hitting one square across the face (Morning)
Nov 2001 La Habra Heights Coyote on golf course ran up to woman, jumped on her back, and bit her on right forearm (Daytime)
Dec 2001 San Gabriel Coyote bit 3-yr-old girl in head; grabbed her shoulder in an attempt to drag her off Father chased coyote off (7:30 PM)
May 2002 Los Angeles Coyote attacked man walking his dog
Jul 2002 Woodland Hills (Los Angeles) Adult female attacked by coyote, bitten on arm (6 AM)
Jul 2002 Woodland Hills (Los Angeles) Adult male bitten on boot by coyote when he inadvertently came upon it between car and garage
Jul 2002 Canoga Park (Los Angeles) Woman walking 2 large dogs accosted by 3 coyotes; fell backward and fended coyotes off
Aug 2002 Mission Hills (Los Angeles) Coyote approached couple walking dog, attempting to snatch dog out of man’s arms; left only after being kicked (4 AM)
Nov 2002 Woodland Hills (Los Angeles) Coyote scaled 6-ft wall into yard, attacked and killed small dog in presence of owner; in melee, woman kicked coyote, then fell and fractured her elbow and was attacked and scratched by coyote (1 PM)
Feb 2003 Lake View Terrace (Los Angeles) Jogger bitten (tooth scrape on ankle) by coyote after jogging past neighborhood coyote feeding station
May 2003 Woodland Hills (Los Angeles) Coyote acted aggressively toward man after he intervened during its attack on his dog
May 2003 Woodland Hills (Los Angeles) Coyote came into residence to attack small pet dogs (2 PM)
Jul 2003 Granada Hills (Los Angeles) Boy walking family’s 2 dogs attacked by 3 coyotes; one dog was killed and the other injured; rescued by father
Nov 2003 Claremont Man and his dog attacked by 3-4 coyotes; he defended himself, hitting several coyotes with his walking stick (8 AM)

Source: Coyote Attacks: An Increasing Suburban Problem, Hopland Research & Extension Center, University of California research paper, March 3, 2004, by Rex O. Baker, Joe R. Bennett, and Craig C. Coolahan

Coyote Attacks in Recent Years

Coyote attacks on humans did not cease in Los Angeles County after 2003. More recently, in November 2014, a woman in Hollywood reported that her 4-year-old daughter was knocked down by a coyote outside her home. Wildlife officers, however, were unable to locate a coyote and could not verify the attack. During July and August 2016, in Montebello, a 17-year-old girl at Grant Rea Park and a man working nearby underneath his car were bitten by a coyote in separate incidents during daylight hours. Later, a homeless man was attacked by coyotes in the park at night while rummaging through garbage. The park was temporarily closed and wildlife officers and professional hunters came in to end the series of coyotes attacks. In March 2018, a five-year-old boy was bitten by a coyote on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles in the University Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. A day later, police shot and killed the animal.


Two Coyotes, Griffith Park

Two coyotes trip the same motion-triggered camera in Griffith Park as in the photo at the top of the page. Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service via Flickr.

Keeping Coyotes & Pets Apart

  • Sadly for pets, cats and small dogs make up a significant portion of the diet of urban coyotes. In coyote areas, keep small pets indoors and don’t let them out at night unsupervised. Most coyote attacks occur at night.
  • Obey leash law and don’t let pets roam. Roaming pets are more likely to be hit by cars, attacked by coyotes and poisoned.
  • Report coyote encounters to authorities. Coyote sightings and encounters are mapped by agencies. When sightings increase, authorities may issue community alerts.
  • Coyotes eat a wide variety of food. Pick up pet food left outside and take inside at night to avoid attracting unwanted guests. Remove fallen fruit, especially avocados, from yards, Store trash in containers with tight lids.
  • An enclosed backyard does not provide safety for small dogs unless fencing is sufficiently high. Low fencing allows pets to escape and stray animals to enter the yard. Coyotes can scale low fences looking for food or your pets.
  • Clear brush and dense weeds around the yard which provide shelter for coyotes and the rodents they hunt.
  • If you see a coyote stalking your pet, yell and throw rocks at the coyote (see "If a Coyote Approaches You" below). Take your pet indoors.

Source: Southern California Veterinary Medical Association
Also see: How to Manage Coyotes, by the University of California.


IF A COYOTE APPROACHES YOU...

Coyote Approaches Children in Schoolyard
If approached by a coyote while out walking or hiking, DO NOT TURN YOUR BACK AND DO NOT RUN. Make yourself look big and intimidating by standing as tall as possible, opening up your jacket, stomping your feet, raising and waving your arms over your head and yelling. Throw rocks or anything you can quickly grab at the coyote's feet. Slowly back away. When the coyote retreats, do not run after it. It may turn to attack if it feels cornered or unable to escape, especially if it has pups nearby. If you know that coyotes may be in your neighborhood, carry pepper spray or a walking stick that can be used as a weapon. Report any such encounter to the authorities, whether police or animal control. Not only can coyotes harm people and pets, they can also be diseased.

See video: Survive a Coyote Encounter


Regarding coyotes in the Los Angeles area, also visit:

Coyote Cacher (yes, "Cacher") - a University of California project that maps coyote sightings.

The LA Urban Coyote Project - a National Park Service community science project to gain a better understanding of coyotes living in urban areas and provide valuable information to partner agencies and the public.


MOUNTAIN LIONS

Female Mountain Lion in Verdugo Mountains with Los Angeles Lights in Background

A female mountain lion in the Verdugo Mountains with lights of Los Angeles in background. Courtesy National Park Service.

By the 1940s, mountain lions were thought to have been eradicated from Los Angeles. Now, naturalists estimate that about two dozen mountain lions (also known as pumas or cougars) prowl the Santa Monica Mountain range that bisects the City of Los Angeles. In 2004, a mountain lion was first seen prowling Griffith Park (now tagged and designated "P-22"), believed to have arrived there via urban water channels from the Santa Monica Mountains. These big cats, weighing up to 150 pounds and able to range up to 200 square miles, hunt at night and prey on small game, deer, and, on occasion, unfortunate stray pets. Mountain lions have attacked and, in fact, killed bicyclists, hikers and runners in Southern California. The only verified mountain lion attack (according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife) on a human in Los Angeles County was a non-fatal attack on a 27-year-old adult male on Mount Lowe in the San Gabriel Mountains in March 1995. The cyclist was bitten and cut by the mountain lion, but fought off the animal with rocks. The mountain lion was subsequently tracked down and killed. In January 2004, in nearby Orange County, two cyclists were attacked by a mountain lion in a regional park, one fatally.

Los Angeles is only one of two cities in the world in which big wild cats freely roam. Mumbai in India is the other.

Life is precarious for mountain lions in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Not only do they face natural threats such as interspecies violence from increasingly being crowded into smaller habitats, predators eating their young, and from inbreeding, but they face urban threats from motor vehicles and rat poison in thier food chain and even, in one case, poaching. A 2016 joint UCLA/National Park Service study concluded that the Los Angeles region's mountain lion population faces possible extinction in 50 years.

NHM Display of Steve Winter Photo of P-22 in Griffith Park

Natural History Museum of LA display of Steve Winter photo of P-22 in Griffith Park featured in National Geographic Magazine.

About 40,000 years ago, Los Angeles saw the likes of a larger, considerably more powerful big cat called the saber-tooth cat. These were as large as African lions yet considerably more powerful with large deadly canines measuring up to eight inches. In 2000, author Jeff Rovin brought them back to life to terrorize Southern California in his fictional novel Fatalis.

Some Facts & Figures

* The National Park Service has studied more than 60 mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains.
* The #1 cause of death among study animals is intraspecific strife, or mountain lions killing other mountain lions.
* A total of 18 mountain lions have been struck and killed by vehicles in the study area since 2002 (note only six were study animals).
* A typical home range is around 200 square miles for adult males and 75 square miles for adult females.
* Mountain lions typically eat about one deer per week, along with other smaller prey as the opportunity arises. NPS researchers have analyzed more than 600 kills, of which 87% were mule deer (the second-most common prey was coyotes and then raccoons).
* 14 of 15 mountain lions have tested positive for exposure to one or more anticoagulant rodenticides (rat poison) and three have died directly of poisoning.

Source: National Park Service


Also see: Lions in the Santa Monica Mountains? by the National Park Service

BEARS

Black Bear, Malibu Creek State Park

A Black Bear photographed in 2016 by a camera trap in the Santa Monica Mountains at Malibu Creek State Park. Courtesy National Park Service.

At one time, California Grizzly Bears roamed widely throughout Los Angeles County and Southern California. Hunting, however, decimated the numbers of this magnificent beast. In 1916, the last known Grizzly in the wild in Southern California was believed to have been shot and killed in Los Angeles County. The California Grizzly, whose image appears on California's state flag, has now long been extinct. By 1933, bears of any species were extinct in the mountains of Southern California. That year, in an attempt to reintroduce bears to the Los Angeles area, rangers from Yosemite National Park introduced 11 California Black Bears to the San Gabriel Mountains near Crystal Lake. The Black Bear is a smaller and much less aggressive cousin of the Grizzly. Biologists estimate that about 150 to 500 Black Bears now roam Angeles National Forest.

Since 1986, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife recorded 99 "bear attack" incidents in the wild statewide (all non-fatal and all involving California Black Bears), five having occurred in Los Angeles County:

Date Location Victim Sex Victim Age
2008 October Little Jimmy Campground Male 11
2004 Unk Chilao Campground, Angeles National Forest Male Adult
2003 July Angeles National Forest Male Adult
2001 July Farm in La Verne Female Adult
1996 July Singing Pine Camp, Angeles National Forest Male & Female 8 & Unknown

Sadly, in every case, the bear had to be hunted down and destroyed. Attacks on humans, even due to human carelessness, are believed to make the bear more dangerous.

Source: California Department of Fish and Wildlife


Black Bear, Mammoth Mountain, California

A Black Bear photographed on Mammoth Mountain, California. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.


Black Bear

A Black Bear. Photograph provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr.