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Did a Coyote Eat Your Cat? Conejo Valley Scat Survey Aims To Find Out

Smug coyote | Photo: Josh More, some rights reserved
Smug coyote | Photo: Josh More, some rights reserved

Given their reputation as shrewd tricksters and their churlish behavior around humans, Southern California coyotes are usually treated by Angelenos with a mixture of resentment, aggression, and fear. In part, that's because of a belief – whether true or not – that our beloved pets are on their menu.

Some scientific analyses of coyote meals have found that domestic pets – that is, dogs and cats – make up as little as one percent of their diet, while other studies have put that figure much higher. To find out just how coyotes are making it in the big city, researchers from the National Park Service have been enlisting citizen scientist volunteers to search for coyote scat (the scientific term for poop), which can then be dissected to figure out what they're eating.

Now a year into the project, the park service is expanding the study to include the Conejo Valley. Conejo coyotes were last studied a decade and a half ago, when NPS researchers discovered that they mostly feasted upon rabbits, pocket gophers, woodrats, and mice: all critters that they should be eating. They also found evidence that they were gobbling up fallen backyard fruits, and the very occasional domestic cat.

(It's impossible to say whether they were chowing down on pet cats or feral street cats; if they were the latter, it is an understatement to say that opinions differ as to whether the coyotes would in fact be providing an ecological service by taking on the bird murderers.)

But what are the Conejo coyotes eating today? How does their diet compare to their more urban cousins living in Los Angeles? Wildlife ecologist Justin Brown, who is leading the NPS research effort, hopes to find out. If you live nearby and would like to become involved as a citizen scientist, click here for more information.

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