Coyote Czar: The Dallas wildlife expert who manages our coyote program

Jackie Sutherland and her dog, Missy, patrol the wooded areas of Dallas looking for coyotes reported by neighbors. Missy helps Sutherland teach the coyotes, through hazing, that there are negative consequences if they try to approach a dog. Photograph by Julia Cartwright.

It’s been almost a year
since a coyote attack on a small child put the people of Dallas on edge.

A valley of white rocks incident involving 2-year-old Knox Thomas was the driving force behind a coyote management plan launched by the city of Dallas in 2022, city spokeswoman Margo Clingman said.

After the event, in which a coyote grabbed the boy by the throat and hung on until his siblings screamed and his mother charged the animal, Dallas partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a comprehensive animal education and observation program. The goal: Negotiate peace between human and beast. The city’s webpage includes a coyote reporting system and displays a map that tracks the observations.

The Dallas Coyote

The attack also prompted our city government to appoint a Coyote Czar, of sorts, whose primary role is to investigate, advise, and help coordinate wildlife policy specifically related to the growing dogs. problematic.

This is animal services officer Jacqueline Sutherland. She says she was called to the scene (of the Thomas incident) immediately and investigated.

As the little boy underwent surgery and recovered from his injuries, Sutherland’s team, with the help of USDA hunters, captured and euthanized four neighborhood coyotes.

Lethal elimination is reserved only for extreme cases. Extracting or exterminating coyotes usually does no good, Sutherland says, because the species will breed precisely to replace each family member lost to death or relocation.

Sutherland has been the contact person for the Dallas Coyote since that investigation.

Urban coyotes have been a hot topic in the White Rock area for decades. But until the toddler’s attack, residents had been led to believe that while cats, squirrels and small dogs were at risk, coyotes were unlikely to harm humans.

It remains true that attacks on people are atypical. But when a neighborhood child is victimized, it doesn’t matter how rare they are, parents have pointed out at public meetings. The city did not do enough to prevent an impending attack, they said.

White Rock area father Clayton Rainey told the Lawyer last year, he reported an animal that may have been Knox’s attacker in the days leading up to the incident. The coyote brazenly roamed the tree line and walkways in search of food.

“It’s scary, and he should have been taken care of right away.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests an increase in the Dallas coyote population, Sutherland says.

“In some neighborhoods I’ve spoken with people who have lived there for 30 years without seeing a coyote but now see a whole family of them,” she says.

For an even more scientific assessment, the Coyote Management Team is analyzing the data they started collecting after the White Rock Valley event.

“Now that we’re monitoring families, territories, activities, behaviors, these kinds of things are going to give us insight into how they’re growing, how they’re functioning, and how they’re distributed.”

Photograph by Julia Cartwright.

Please do not feed wildlife

What she knows for sure is that coyotes are content to live among people, especially when they connect a human to a food source.

“It makes them want to hang out.” And it becomes a habit for the animals and their offspring.

“People who come from Colorado or East Texas are shocked at how the coyotes behave here,” Sutherland says.

This habituation can result from unintentional or deliberate eating, which does happen, says Sutherland, although people don’t want to admit it.

She says some people use food to get good wildlife photos. This includes social media users with feeds to fill out.

“I was working with an apartment where we found kids throwing food over the fence to get a coyote out of the woods so they could get it in a TikTok video,” she says.

The most problematic members of coyote populations tend to be tweens, Sutherland says, because like their human counterparts, young coyotes push the boundaries of where they’re supposed to walk or how long they stay outside.

Photograph by Julia Cartwright.

These “adolescent” coyotes “are going places they shouldn’t be; they miss curfew,” she jokes. They’re going to ask permission from a human, in a way, to get close, and people just have to make it clear that’s not OK.

“If people are okay with that, then the behavior returns to normal pretty quickly.”

Coyotes play a vital role in the ecosystem by helping to control the rodent population. This means they go where rodents go – unsecured trash cans, for example.

Even feeding ducks and other birds can inadvertently attract coyotes, she says. An ordinance banning wildlife feeding will come up for a vote by city council this year, and Sutherland says it’s needed.

Sutherland says if everyone did their part to solve the coyote feeding problem, the risk of further injury to humans would be almost nil.

“We’re really struggling to educate people about the dangers of the diet, and we’re still trying to get this (ordinance) passed,” Sutherland said. “I have areas where I basically have to beg people to stop leaving food inappropriately.”

There have been a dozen recorded incidents of coyotes attacking humans across the state of Texas, Sutherland says, and each of those instances, “they could be traced back to someone feeding the animal.”

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