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People who feed a coyote do it more harm than good

People who try to feed coyotes and other wild animals thinking they're doing the creatures a favor end up causing serious problems, directly or otherwise, a state game official says.

Scott Richardson, an urban wildlife specialist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, says the biting attacks on three young children at a suburban Oro Valley park in two days resulted from people feeding coyotes.Now, authorities have a two-pronged hunt going.

They've searched without success so far for more coyotes around the Wildlife Ridge Park where one was found and killed after an attack last week. And they're looking for the people who have been feeding them.

There's also a campaign on to teach humans to stop feeding the wildlife.

"We view this not so much as a coyote problem; it's a people problem. And when it results in an attack on a child, it is a serious issue," Richardson said.

In the early December attack, a 22-month-old girl, bitten around her right eye, required seven stitches for the deep puncture wounds. A 4-year-old boy also was bitten and scratched.

The day before, a coyote - possibly the same animal - attacked a 2-year-old boy, though that child's skin was not broken.

An Oro Valley officer discovered a female coyote beneath a bush in the park about a half-hour after the attack on Gabrielle Malkin and Benjamin Satre. The animal acted oddly in that it showed no fear of humans, and the officer shot it. Tests for rabies were negative.

Officials can't tell whether the coyote was the attacker.

Several neighbors indicated "they had seen people hand-feeding them in the park," Richardson said. "It ranges from steak to doughnuts; they'll feed them just about anything."

He said people who feed a coyote do it more harm than good because it ultimately either will become a safety threat or the human food will lack the nutritional content the animal needs.

"It's very rare that coyotes will bite people," said Peter Siminski, general curator at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. "However, you do hear about it more these days as coyotes and people come in closer contact."

Typically, it occurs when coyotes become used to people trying to hand-feed them, Siminski said. A number of such biting incidents have occurred in the Los Angeles area, he said.

Coyotes attacked and bit two Scottsdale children in separate attacks within a week in April, though neither child was seriously hurt. The two suspect coyotes were later killed and their cubs were relocated.

Rodrigo Silva, manager of the Pima County animal control center, said since 1990, there have been 14 reported coyote bites in the county. He said coyotes lose their natural fear of man when humans feed them, and "that will cause them to be more comfortable and emboldened around your neighborhood."