Rare Coyote Sighting in Miami's El Portal

Yes, coyotes are native to Florida.
Yes, coyotes are native to Florida. Connar L'Ecuyer / National Park Service
A video shared this week by a local urban environmentalist shows a seemingly well-fed and fully grown coyote wandering the streets of El Portal. Police have advised residents to keep their pets safe indoors.

"I mean, you have a coyote right off of Biscayne Boulevard, a few miles from downtown Miami. Its extraordinary," says Miami resident Howard Tonkin, who posted the video after he received it from a friend.  "Because of the decimation of other large mammals on the East Coast, coyotes have gained territory."

Although coyotes are native to Florida, urban encounters remain rare. There have been scattered reports of sightings in South Florida cities such as Weston, Pembroke Pines, and Palmetto Bay in recent years.

The behavior of the coyote in the Facebook video β€” calmly snooping around in the middle of the day β€” is exceedingly rare. Coyotes are generally skittish and tend to avoid humans. In the wild, they can be active throughout the day, but in metropolitan areas, they are typically nocturnal.

A coyote's diet includes fruit, vegetables, and meat. They are scavengers, so trash bins can provide an endless supply of food. The medium-size canines also hunt small animals such as rodents, raccoons, opossums, rabbits, and foxes. They also sometimes prey on small cats and dogs (mostly at dusk or dawn) β€” a fact that has earned them a bad rap among pet owners across the nation.

But is all the hate really deserved?

"Coyotes can actually be very valuable when it comes to controlling the populations of feral cats and rodents," says Steve Mahoney, conservation chair for the Sierra Club Miami Group. "Some of the problems we have here in Miami with rats and feral cats is because we don't have predators that will help to keep those populations in check."
Miami-Dade's feral cat problem is well documented. In 2014, the number was estimated to be 300,000. That was two years after a county-wide "trap-neuter-release" program was adopted. Though cute and familiar to humans, cats rank alongside invasive iguanas and pythons when it comes to wreaking havoc on native environments.

A single feral cat can kill 100 or more birds and mammals per year while competing with native wildlife for food. Many of the most effected bird species are native resident and migratory songbirds decimated by by pesticide pollution and habitat degradation. Cats also are the primary hosts of diseases such as toxoplasmosis, which kills manatees and other mammals.

Urban areas such as New York and Chicago have recently seen an explosion in coyote population. The animals can live to 13 years old in cities, while they last only 2.5 years in rural areas.

Tonkin calls the coyote sighting "a good thing" and adds that "increasing biodiversity is key to our own survival." He owns Urban Habitat, a landscape design company that specializes in near-extinct species of plants and animals. He says that through his work, he's helped return foxes to areas such as Biscayne Park and Miami Shores. 

Feeding coyotes is illegal in Florida because they could lose their fear of humans. If you see a coyote that seems a bit too cozy around people and cars, FWC recommends making loud noises and acting aggressively.

According to El Portal Police, animal control and FWC will not respond to calls about coyotes unless the animals are trapped.
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Manuel Madrid is a former staff writer for Miami New Times. The child of Venezuelan immigrants, he grew up in Pompano Beach. He studied finance at Virginia Commonwealth University and worked as a writing fellow for the magazine The American Prospect in Washington, D.C.