The North Central Florida terrain is home to what some call an unwanted visitor.
In areas like Fort White, Trenton and Bell, packs of coyotes often leave traces behind. From murdered chickens to attacked cats, the area has seen its fair share of encounters.
Andrew Nettles is a Trenton, Florida native who guides turkey hunts for a living. As a sixth-generation turkey hunter, he’s concerned about coyotes preying on his birds.
“We’ve had a few small dogs snatched by them in the past. My aunt’s Pomeranian got snatched by one at 8am,” Nettles said.
With a large coyote population, he is worried about the coyotes attacking the high-dollar birds, affecting his way of life.
“An Osceola bird will go for $1,200 to $1,500 for a good sized gobbler. When we have a big bird disappear off of our game cameras in the off-season, we assume that’s what happened,” Nettles said.
But their presence in Florida is a small part of their national population. Coyotes are found in every state in the United States, besides Hawaii.
“Coyotes began expanding their range into northwestern Florida in the 1960s and are now considered to be a naturalized species in all 67 Florida counties,” said Ashley Williams, a spokeswoman for the Florida Wildlife Commission.
Since coyotes have brought themselves to the state of Florida through natural range expansion, they are categorized as a non-native species instead of an invasive species.
Citizens have created their own means to combat the threat of these animals.
Thom Howard, a Fort White resident, has created a Facebook page titled the Fort White predator report. The page, which has nearly 850 members, is dedicated to spreading awareness of predators in the area, such as feral dogs, foxes, and coyotes.
Howard has been running a cat sanctuary in Fort White since December 2021. He and his wife, Denise, currently have 150 cats on their nine-acre property. Shortly after moving to Fort White, he realized coyotes were a problem.
“I have eight trail cams in the woods around my property,” Howard said. “I had seen a coyote on my cameras a couple times. On January 31, I was asleep in my car when I woke up and saw a coyote attacking my cat, Gemini. I used the .25 caliber pistol in my car to kill the coyote.”
Howard said he didn’t have any issues with coyotes unless one attacked his cats. But now he patrols his acreage nightly, looking to protect his family as well as the visitors to the short-term rental on his property. He rarely sleeps at night and carries a high-powered pellet rifle when he patrols.
“I have to be at a high level of awareness now,” Howard said.
However, wildlife researchers seem to have a different take on the coyotes.
Martin Main, a professor of ecology and conservation at the University of Florida, explained that coyotes are unfairly demonized animals.
“There is so much misinformation around coyotes,” Main said.
Main referenced a study in Immokalee, Florida where calves were microchipped to determine why local ranches were losing livestock. In the study, of more than 400 calves with trackable tags on multiple ranches, not one was lost due to coyote predation. Prior to the study, one ranch estimating that up to 16% of the deaths of cows were a direct cause of coyotes. But the research found that most of the calves that died because of disease.
Main believes killing coyotes isn’t an effective solution for farmers who are wary of their cattle being harmed. In fact, sometimes it can cause more problems. Since coyotes are pack animals, if the alpha coyote is killed, the coyote that replaces the deceased alpha could be more aggressive or willing to attack livestock or pets.
Hance Ellington is an assistant professor in the wildlife ecology and conservation department at the University of Florida. He will begin a project on UF’s Deluca Preserve in January that will focus on microchipping coyotes to discover if they have any indirect effects on cattle production.
“Coyotes are the ultimate generalists. They will eat anything. But as a medium sized canine, healthy cows can easily fend them off,” Ellington said.
As omnivores, coyotes also can consume ground-based fruit like strawberries or watermelon.
Although chickens also are attacked if not properly protected, they aren’t as much of an economic powerhouse as cattle, so less attention is paid to them, Ellington said.
Coyotes also have some direct positive contributions to nature. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, coyotes help control the populations of rodents and other smaller predators.
Although some research shows coyotes to be mostly harmless, those in rural areas continue to fear having these predators on their property. This may be caused by the surrounding environment. Rural counties, such as Columbia and Gilchrist with the Ichetucknee River flowing through, are home to much more prey. Those who live near these wildlife-filled areas see a lot more coyotes.
The economic state of certain areas is another factor. Fort White has an average income $10,000 less than the Florida state average, meaning homeowners have less of a financial ability to install fencing or hire private trappers.
But state resources, such as FWC, can help residents become more aware of the coyotes in their area. Taking steps like securing trash, keeping pets inside or on leashes and monitoring your animals can help mitigate the impact of these animals, allowing humans and coyotes to coexist peacefully.