They may look friendly but habituated wild animals are a threat to humans and them-selves.
The first incident occurred on the West Rim on June 3, when a coyote nipped a young child who was carrying a grocery bag. The bite did not break the skin. The coyote has been frequenting the area near the hotels and Hermit’s Rest, and park officials are trying to trap it.
The second incident was on the evening of June 18 at Mojave Point. There, a Japanese couple traveling with their 3-year-old departed a tour bus and a coyote approached and bit the child. Rangers killed that animal and sent it to Phoenix for rabies testing. The results were inconclusive and the youngster is now undergoing precautionary rabies treatment in his own country, Oltrogge said.
Also, last Wednesday, a girl staying with her family at Mather Campground was chased by a coyote.
While rabid animals are known to behave erratically and to sometimes display a lack of fear toward humans, Oltrogge said with these coyotes – as well as with squirrels, deer, ringtails and other animals – the more likely explanation is that they’ve come to associate humans with food.
“They become habituated because the public, that’s people in the community and visitors, feed them and make it easy to get food by leaving their dog’s food or other accessible food outside,” Oltrogge said. “These cases are why it’s important. These children had nothing to do with feeding the animals but (the coyotes) had become so habituated that an injury to a child was the result."
To help combat the problem, the Park Service recently installed animal-proof waste containers to discourage wildlife from foraging in the trash. The Park Service also imposes a stiff fine – $100 – to deter people from giving wild animals a hand-out.
Animals that grow used to receiving food from humans become a nuisance and a danger and must be removed. About 10 years ago, the park had to dispatch a number of habituated deer, and in 1997 and 1998, they targeted coyotes and squirrels that had lost their fear of humans. Currently, wildlife staff are trying to trap two groups of habituated coyotes on the East and South rims.
Oltrogge said people can protect themselves by remembering that as friendly as they seem, they are still wild animals.
“People should report any kind of abnormal behavior by wildlife, and keep their kids close at hand,” she said. “Don’t let an animal approach you and don’t approach an animal. If it does approach, act aggressive. Yell or throw things at it.”
Animals displaying unusual or nuisance behavior should be reported to Park Dispatch at 638-7805.