By Chuck Woodbury
National parks require pets to be leashed to protect the local wildlife. But where coyotes roam it’s the pets that need protection. As in many expanding suburbs, coyotes in national parks have become so accustomed to people that they often forage in plain view.
Cats and small dogs are easy prey for the quick, powerful predators when left tethered to an RV in a campground,. One ranger at Death Valley National Park almost lost his cat when a coyote grabbed it outside his residence. He chased the animal, which dropped the cat and ran off before inflicting serious injury.
A pet is in danger even when you walk it on a leash. The same ranger tells of a man who was walking his poodle near the Death Valley’s Furnace Creek campground when a coyote suddenly charged from the brush, yanked the leash from the man’s hand and took off with the poodle. No trace was found of the dog or leash.
Even if you are able to get to your pet early during an attack, it might still be too late. Coyotes often shake their prey violently to kill it: the shaking can be enough to cause fatal internal damage.
PEOPLE THEMSELVES ARE PARTLY TO BLAME for pets being vulnerable around campgrounds. By feeding wildlife near campgrounds and leaving garbage unsealed, people inadvertently encourage highly adaptable animals like coyotes to associate humans with food. Visitors driving in the north end of Death Valley near Scotty’s Castle and the Mesquite Spring Campground often spot a coyote in plain view by the roadside, waiting patiently for the next handout. I have met RVers who carry dog food to feed to such “friendly” animals. This is bad for the welfare of people, pets and the coyotes themselves.
So in national parks — or anywhere where coyotes may be present — never leave a small pet unattended. Keep the leash short when walking by potential hideouts, and don’t create pests of wild animals by feeding them.