Coyote caution: do not feed them or leave food outside
Coyote interactions with humans have been in the news on Cape Cod this summer. In August, a 3-year-old girl was bitten by a coyote at North Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown. That followed an incident at the end of July where two local fishermen rescued a woman who was using a stick to try to hold off a coyote that was following her closely at Race Point in Provincetown. Last summer, a coyote bit a beachgoer and killed a dog in Provincetown.
A loss of habitat is part of the problem, but an even bigger issue is people feeding coyotes, according to Michael Valora, the chief ranger of Cape Cod National Seashore. While there have been human-coyote encounters at the National Seashore in recent years, other parts of the Cape also have coyote populations.
“I’ve been loosely monitoring some of the social media about different parts of the Cape and there is definitely a prevalence of coyotes,” Valora said.
The vast majority of the animals will be curious, but not dangerous, he said. But he warns that coyotes are very opportunistic when it comes to finding things to eat and that’s why you might see some of the stalking behavior being reported.
“The very concerning behavior comes when those coyotes completely lose their fear of humans and they’re actively closing that distance between themselves and a human,” Valora said. “More often than not, that’s because the animals have been habituated and by that, I mean they have been consistently fed or they see humans as a source of providing food for them. It’s very easy for them to get food from humans rather than expending all of the extra energy by hunting or trying to get prey on their own.”
For that reason, park rangers warn people to never feed coyotes and to make sure to pick up and dispose of all garbage and food scraps from a picnic or a day at the beach.
If you do encounter a coyote, Valora recommends you try to make as much noise as possible, by yelling, clapping your hands or banging a walking stick on a hard surface. He also recommends slowing backing away from the coyote and leaving the area as soon as possible. If a coyote does exhibit aggressive or stalking behavior, or seems unafraid of humans, report the encounter to authorities immediately.
Most towns’ police departments have an animal control officer, or you can call 911. If the encounter occurs at the National Seashore, you can call their emergency dispatch office at 617-242-5659.
“There’s been some increase in rabies cases in Cape Cod so that’s why it’s equally important to report it as soon as possible in case it is a rabid animal, so that it can be euthanized to stop the spread of rabies,” Valora said.
In response to the discovery of a rabies-stricken raccoon in Hyannis in May, town, county and federal employees this month began the largest distribution of oral rabies vaccine in Massachusetts history, according to the Cape Cod Times. The effort will continue through October 18, 2021 and involves dropping the waxy vaccine-laced baits from low-flying helicopters around Cape Cod.
If You Are Bitten
If you are bitten by a coyote or other wild animal, it’s important to seek medical care as soon as possible. Emergency physician, Michael Rest, MD, at Falmouth Hospital Emergency Physicians advised going the Emergency Department or an Urgent Care facility, depending on how severe the bite is.
“Wild animal bites, at least mammalian bites, have the potential to transmit rabies, so if somebody were bit by a coyote, we would definitely prophylax for rabies,” he said.
There are two types of injections you would get, he said. One is the vaccine and the other is called immunoglobulin, which is almost like antibodies to attack the potential rabies virus.
The rabies vaccine is a four-part series. The first shot is considered day zero and then the patient would come back on day three, day seven and day 14. Those who are immunocompromised need one additional shot. Patients would also need a tetanus booster if they are not up to date on that vaccine, Dr. Rest added.
“It’s inconvenient to get four sets of shots, but if you are wrong, it’s one hundred percent fatal. And, if you do the series, its one hundred percent lifesaving, so it makes sense to do it,” he said
The same is true if you are bitten by a dog and are unsure of its rabies vaccination status. Other animals of concern are foxes, racoons and skunks. Small mammals like mice and chipmunks don’t transmit rabies simply because if they get bitten by a rabid animal themselves, they die. Groundhogs are also a bit more unlikely to contract the disease, but there have been case reports, so it’s better to be safe, he said.
“Bats are a whole different story,” Dr. Rest said. “There’s actually a fairly high rate of rabies within the bat population. So, there’s actually a recommendation that if you wake up in a room that has a bat flying, you should get the rabies vaccination because there’s a chance you could have been bit overnight and not know it.”
After vaccination, the other part of the treatment for animal bites is wound care. Depending on the severity of the bite, sometimes it’s simply irrigating and cleaning the wound really well. Other times it involves suturing and closure. For a bad wound, plastic surgery might be necessary.
“With bites, we tend to not do a tight closure because there’s a much higher risk of infection,” Dr. Rest said. “If there is an infection, you want it to work its way to the surface and not burrow into the body. So, if we do closures, we do them quite loosely. I also always prescribe antibiotics, because mouths are dirty, and you want to prevent an infection.”