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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Coyote sightings strike fear in Starkville residents

Coyotes+are+abundant+in+Mississippi+and+are+natural+predators%2C+preying+on+small+animals.
Courtesy Photo | Frank Schulenburg

Coyotes are abundant in Mississippi and are natural predators, preying on small animals.

Patricia McCarthy, a 70-year-old resident of Hunting Park in Starkville, was having her rotten backyard fence replaced. Barren fence posts stood against the dimming afternoon sky when McCarthy stepped outside to inspect the project. Then, she saw it.
“Overall color was kind of tan. Short hair, not long hair like a collie or something. The nose is kinda funny like a clown’s nose that’s been pulled out. It’s not big, it’s kinda skinny, and the ears are a funny shape. Dog ears are kind of more rounded and these were more pointed,” McCarthy said, recalling the figure.
Checking her home’s surveillance cameras, the first scene revealed a critter with a round back and raised hips. McCarthy was certain it was a raccoon. The CCTV footage flickered to the next clip. Two creatures slinked into view, their feet and pointed ears dark on the grayscale video. No, those were certainly foxes.
The next video played — this one in color. Something trotted into view. The streetlamp colored its coat tan, and the shadow of its long legs stretched across her driveway. It raised a funny-looking nose into the air. It was a coyote.
“Be careful and don’t feed ‘em – we don’t need them at our back door,” McCarthy said. “I wouldn’t leave my animals out at night around here unless they’re in a good pen with a roof over it. They may get visits from the critters themselves.”
Thomas Walker, 72-year-old neighbor to McCarthy, has had a few encounters with coyotes across his 13 years in the neighborhood. Seven years ago, when his dog was a puppy, Walker saw a coyote in his front yard.
“She was on a leash, I was in front of the house, and the coyote saw her and didn’t see me – a little, small dog – and basically was stalking her. I grabbed the dog, yelled at the coyote and the coyote ran off,” Walker said.
Twice this year, as he was letting his dog out at night, the patio light revealed a coyote walking along the lakeshore behind Walker’s house.
“People with fenced yards, with six-foot fences think they’re safe, and they’re not – a coyote is going right over the top of that,” Walker said. “And they’ll have a small dog or cat and be gone before you even know they’re there.”
Christopher Ayers, an assistant professor interested in human-wildlife interactions within Mississippi State University’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, said coyotes moved into the Southeast after the extirpation of the red wolf more than 100 years ago, assuming its former role in the ecosystem.
Ayers said that coyotes could possibly become a risk to Starkville pets if they become accustomed to humans by eating garbage or pet food left outside. Ayers recommended eliminating possible food sources and following the city ordinance that requires residents to keep their pet on a leash while outside of their home.
“If people are keeping their pets under control, then I really don’t see it becoming any kind of issue where they’re suddenly going to become vicious and attacking people, their children or anything like that,” Ayers said. “I don’t perceive it as a big threat, certainly not currently. But again, if anyone feels threatened, they should call animal control.”
Kris Godwin, state director of USDA APHIS Wildlife Services, works to resolve human-wildlife conflict across the state. Godwin said that the negative reputation of coyotes could be caused by several factors.
“Lack of knowledge, watching too much TV, not growing up in a rural environment,” Godwin said. “I mean, a lot of people in this day and age have grown up in more urban or semi-urban environments and haven’t grown up around things like coyotes, so they don’t understand them.”
According to Godwin, there have been no recent complaints about coyotes in Starkville, and they present little threat to residents.
“They’re here. I don’t know that a lot of people will ever know that they’re here,” Godwin said. “You don’t see them, you know, you may hear them at night out in the field or something like that, but I think the chances of having a negative encounter are really, really low.”

About the Contributor
Samuel Hughes, Former News Editor
Samuel Hughes served as the News Editor from 2023 to 2024.
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Coyote sightings strike fear in Starkville residents