Washington Twp. residents report increase in coyote attacks

| Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, 7:33 a.m.

Michele Wehrle of Washington Township awoke Sunday night to the screech of a dying animal, followed by the low and resonant howl of a satisfied coyote.

Confirmed attacks like these have residents on edge in the southern portion of the township where they say coyotes have grown more prevalent and aggressive over the past eight months.

Last week, that aggression culminated in the killing of two baby alpacas at the Humming Valley Alpaca Farm near the intersection of Route 66 and Saltsburg Road. Neighbors said the animals were worth about $20,000 apiece.

Their demise has Wehrle, a friend of the farm owners, and other township residents taking extra precautions at their homes.

“My children aren't allowed out at night or in the early morning anymore,” she said. “We have five goats and two lambs, and I lock them up in the shed every night so the coyotes can't get to them. It's pretty scary.”

Attempts to reach Humming Valley owners were unsuccessful, but Wehrle said the two alpacas killed last week were among 28 living on the farm.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission confirmed that the alpacas were killed by coyotes.

The farm owners didn't need any confirmation. They captured a photo of a coyote about the size of a German shepherd on a nearby surveillance camera last winter, according to Wehrle. They believe it's the same animal that stalked the pen Saturday night.

They also found tracks surrounding the pen and remembered a neighbor whose seven peacocks were all attacked in the months prior. Six were killed and buried in the yard by the animals.

Brett Stevenson believes the coyotes were using his peacocks to teach their pups how to hunt.

“I thought my dogs were killing them, but they slept with me one night, and the next morning I found one of the peacocks buried by our air-conditioning unit,” he said. “That's how I knew it was something else.

“A few nights later, I saw a coyote in my field about 100 yards away and it wasn't bothered by my presence at all.”

Stevenson said he's seen coyotes this year that weigh as much as 80 pounds. According to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management, that's about 35 pounds larger than the average healthy adult male.

But it's the quantity, rather than the size of the coyotes, that has Stevenson concerned for the safety of his 3- and 4-year-old daughters.

“I think there's between 20 and 30 of them just around this area,” he said. “They were howling at a fire whistle one night, and there were multiple howls coming from four or five different areas.”

Stevenson believes the Game Commission stocked the area with coyotes to control its deer population — an allegation vehemently denied by Scott Tomlinson, a law enforcement supervisor in the commission's Southwest Region.

“That's been an ongoing rumor for the past 20 years,” Tomlinson said. “The truth is that coyotes have been migrating to this region for years for a number of reasons, and there's no reason for undue panic.”

State regulations prohibit non-hunters from shooting coyotes unless they pose an imminent threat to that person, their commercial agriculture, livestock or personal property like pets, according to Tomlinson. Licensed hunters can shoot coyotes at any time of the year as long as they follow all applicable hunting regulations.

Stevenson and Wehrle, however, believe the coyotes pose an imminent threat to everyone in the area.

“I'm very concerned about the safety of my daughters,” Stevenson said. “It would be safer to kill (the coyotes) in an area like this, where people are familiar with guns and know where it's OK to discharge high-powered rifles. It would be a nightmare if they made their way out to more residential areas.”

The Washington Township man said he's never had a problem with coyotes in the area before a couple of months ago.

The increase in coyote aggression, according to Tomlinson, is no reason for concern, however.

“We've seen an influx in coyotes over the past couple decades in this region,” he said. “Sometimes, they go after livestock, but it's no reason to be alarmed.”

Tomlinson did acknowledge some of the health hazards that coyotes present — namely their susceptibility to rabies — and cautioned people to avoid coyotes that appear docile or comfortable around humans.

“Typically, that means they were raised around humans who released them into the wild,” he said. “That can make for a very dangerous animal.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com

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