Trapper on the prowl for IOP coyotes

Sullivan's Island resident Stanford Kirshtein photographs coyotes using a remote camera positioned outside his home near Station 26. (Photo by Stanford Kirshtein)

Isle of Palms has hired a coyote trapper in response to growing public complaints about the predators being spotted in residential neighborhoods. So far, the effort has snagged a possum near Breach Inlet, said City Administrator Linda Tucker.

“There was a photo circulating around before trapping was authorized that depicted three coyotes on the beach in that area,” Tucker said. “We are currently evaluating alternate locations.”

The island had 33 reported coyote sightings in February compared with six for Sullivan’s Island during that time. In March, 12 coyote sightings were reported on IOP and two on Sullivan’s.

IOP Mayor Dick Cronin said coyote trapping is one part of the town’s approach to managing the problem.

“It’s not a given that coyotes are going to wind up in any of these traps,” Cronin said. “We’re trying to do whatever is humanly possible to keep the critters away from us.”

IOP pays the trapper $350 monthly plus $80 per coyote trapped. And there is a $50 fee for handling other animals caught in the traps, officials said.

The city targets overgrown vacant lots and requires that they be cleared of brush and vegetation to eliminate potential coyote hiding places. IOP’s coyote-management strategy includes a state-endorsed plan called “co-existing with coyotes” that offers tips for residents to make their neighborhoods less inviting to the animals.

“I don’t think anybody should delude themselves into thinking that coyotes are not going to be here for the long term,” Cronin said.

Coyotes began showing up on Sullivan’s about three years ago. The problem on IOP has been more recent.

IOP resident Mike Maughon said when his mangled cat was found at the first of the year, an animal control officer told him the wounds were consistent with those of a coyote attack. A neighbor reported seeing a coyote carrying the cat in its mouth, he said.

“In my view they (coyotes) have pretty much depleted most of the deer and the raccoon and that’s the reason they are coming into the neighborhood after the cats and dogs,” he said.

Maughon, who has lived on the island for 25 years, said there has never been a coyote problem until now. More than 30 cats were reported missing in December and January, he said.

“Now they tell you that you can’t let cats out at all after dark,” he said.

Most of the recent coyote sightings on IOP have been at night. At the March meeting of the Council Public Safety Committee there was talk of 23 missing cats and one missing dog. Loss of habitat in Mount Pleasant because of construction was suggested as a reason for coyotes leaving the mainland for the islands.

Sullivan’s hired a trapper who caught two coyotes in the dense maritime forest. Some residents have paid trappers, too. But that approach is at best a short-term solution, officials said.

“It will never truly be possible to remove coyotes through trapping,” said Town Administrator Andy Benke.

He noted that the state Department of Natural Resources is of the same opinion.

Under law, trapped coyotes cannot be relocated. The animals caught on Sullivan’s were “dispatched,” Benke said.

Coyote movements and sightings generally increase in late November or December and subside after February or March, he said.

Ryan Hall, a trapper and owner of Animal Pros, said coyotes can be controlled with traps but it is costly.

“These coyotes are well-versed in neighborhood travel. They are extremely smart,” he said.