ISLE OF PALMS — Islanders here may have to learn to live with the resident coyotes as shooting the species is illegal on the island, and trapping is the only other option.
Officials don't know exactly how many coyotes live on Isle of Palms, but most of them linger near the Wild Dunes area.
Twelve sightings were documented so far this year. And 59 were counted in 2022, according to Ryan Warren, an animal control officer on the island.
But the invasive predators have a presence in each of the state's counties. The species is extremely adaptable and detrimental to deer, turkey and other native animals.
Between 20,000-25,000 coyotes are taken annually in the state.
Summertime is when Isle of Palms animal control officers get the most calls about coyote sightings. Visitors often report the coyotes because they don't realize the animals are residents on the island, Warren said Feb. 22 at a meeting on how to deal with the animals.
"We're definitely pushing for people to call more," Warren said. "So maybe that might be why we have more sightings or maybe there's more out there."
The city tries to alert residents and visitors of the animals through its website and occasionally on Facebook. And Warren said they will consider adding signs in the area, too.
Coyote dens might be spotted in a number of locations.
In flat areas like Isle of Palms, it is common to see a den dug up under roots of a fallen tree, in brush areas and on the sides of banks, according to Jay Butfiloski, the furbearer coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources.
The animals are also known to wander in the dunes on the beach here.
In 2021, a 2-year-old Boykin Spaniel was attacked by four coyotes in the sand dunes on Isle of Palms.
Also in 2021, a Mount Pleasant man said coyotes were to blame for the death of two of his cats in the fenced Sandpiper Point II neighborhood.
Missing or deceased pets are good indicators that coyotes could be nearby.
Officials believe the coyotes on Isle of Palms could be coming from Mount Pleasant and other areas.
The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway between Mount Pleasant and Isle of Palms is not a barrier for the animals, as they can easily cross it, Butfiloski said.
He recommends people do a number of things to protect themselves and their pets from coyotes.
First, people should keep pets on short leashes and don't leave them unattended outside where coyotes are known to roam the area.
Habitat management can be considered as a control method, too, Butfiloski said.
Clearing out brush in areas that are highly traveled, like in parks and even yards, could prove beneficial. It will reduce the habitat for the small mammals that coyotes prey on and also prevent them from hiding.
The biggest issues with coyotes in developed areas is typically food and trash-related, though. People are encouraged not to leave food outdoors for feral cats, pets or other wild animals.
"That allows a free meal, it allows them (coyotes) to kind of get habituated to people, and that's where things get to be a problem," he said.
While more calls come in about coyote sightings on the Isle of Palms during tourist season, statewide coyote sightings are typically higher in the wintertime, partly due to vegetation, lost foliage and increased breeding activities and movements.
There tends to be a decrease in sightings in the summer when the animals are pup rearing.
"When the pups are young, they're like kids. They don't care if they're very visible whenever a den is nearby," Butfiloski said. "But it might not be an indicator (that) you've got a whole bunch more."
No hunting license or permit is required in South Carolina for people to shoot coyotes on their property within 100 yards of the home. But local municipalities may have other regulations.
Night hunting is permitted on registered properties or with a depredation permit. Trapped coyotes may not be relocated.