Coyote Bites Teen At Harding's Beach

By: Tim Wood

A sign posted at Harding's Beach warns that there are coyotes in the area. TIM WOOD PHOTO

Officials Warn Public Not To Feed Wild Animals

CHATHAM – Officials are warning people not to feed coyotes and other wild animals after a teenager was bitten at Harding's Beach on Oct. 11.

It wasn't the first report of a coyote bite at Harding's Beach, and officials are investigating several reports of a person who has been feeding coyotes at the beach.

Sixteen-year-old Jacob Packard and a friend were eating dinner on a blanket in the dunes just east of the beach's second parking lot at approximately 8 p.m. when a coyote approached and bit the Nauset High School junior on the ankle.

“I felt something on my foot and I looked down and it was a coyote,” Packard said in a telephone interview Monday. After biting down, the coyote backed away, circled the blanket and picked up his friend's bag but dropped it and ran away, he said.

Using his phone's flashlight, he looked at his ankle and saw that the sock was torn open and there was a cut near his right ankle. He and his friend treated the cut, and after informing his parents later, he went to Cape Cod Hospital the following day. The injury was not deep and did not require stitches, but because it broke the skin and because of the coyote's unusual behavior, Packard is undergoing rabies treatment.

Another resident reported being bitten by a coyote at Harding's Beach Oct. 2. According to the police report, the woman said she was lying on the beach when a coyote bit her right arm, and three of the animals were acting aggressively toward her. The coyotes followed the woman and a friend as they got into their vehicle. The bite did not break the skin.

Advisory signs were installed at the beach this week alerting the public to the presence of coyotes in the area, as well as what precautions they should take and warning people not to feed the animals. The town has been in contact with officials at the state environmental police and the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game. According to a police report, the agency said the town has the authority to put down any coyotes encountered in the area.

Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said at this point the town's action will be limited to the signs. He added that coyote hunting season in Massachusetts opened Oct. 16, and cautioned that hunters may be active in the Harding's Beach area.

Police are investigating reports of a person observed feeding coyotes at the beach. Police received several calls about a person feeding three juvenile coyotes from the back of a pickup truck after dark at Harding's Beach on Sept. 22. According to the police report, people were standing near the coyotes with flashlights, and the animals “seemed comfortable” with the person feeding them. When an officer arrived the person admitted to giving food scraps to the coyotes and was told to stop feeding the animals. The man later told police that bags of food are sometimes placed on the ground while he is going through rubbish in search of returnables, but that he always puts them back and does not intentionally feed the coyotes. A similar report of a person feeding coyotes from a pickup truck was filed on Oct. 4.

A caller to The Chronicle confirmed that he'd seen three coyotes milling around the parking lot at Harding's Beach and observed someone feeding them.

“There was no fear,” said the caller, who did not want to be identified. “They were just, like, there.” Photographs and video have been posted on Facebook capturing encounters with coyotes at the beach.

“It's the same issue the Cape Cod National Seashore dealt with earlier this year,” Duncanson said, referring to an August incident in Provincetown in which a small child was bitten by a coyote at North Herring Cove Beach. “Unfortunately coyotes get habituated when people feed them or leave food around.”

Duncanson issued a press release Oct. 14 warning people not to feed coyotes or leave food scraps and packaging on the beach.

“That's a problem. They lose fear of humans and incidents like this occur,” Duncanson said.

Field naturalist and author Peter Trull, who has been studying the natural history of the eastern coyote on the Cape for more than 30 years, said anyone feeding coyotes or any wild animal should stop.

“No one should let a coyote get anywhere near them,” he said. “If people get approached by a coyote in any way, even if they're just walking past them on the street, they need to make a lot of noise and scare it away. Throw something at it.”

Several coyote encounters have made headlines in the past few months. After the child was bitten in Provincetown, U.S. Park Service rangers tracked, shot and killed the coyote they identified as responsible for the bite. The animal was tested for rabies but was negative. Seashore officials responded to several incidents this summer of coyotes acting assertively toward people in attempts to obtain food, according to the agency.

A 5-year-old boy was bitten on the leg by a coyote in Arlington in August.

Packard said he only saw one coyote on Oct. 11, but growing up on the Cape, he's seen the animals frequently.

“But never like this,” he said. “Usually they're seen from a distance and they'll be very timid.” When he saw the coyote at his ankle, he first thought it was a dog because of the way it was behaving, he said.

Sightings of assertive coyote or encounters should be reported to the Chatham Police at 508-945-1213 or the Chatham animal control officer at 508-945-5111.