An aggressive coyote that has challenged hikers with dogs at Palo Alto's Pearson-Arastradero Preserve has prompted open-space officials to temporarily close trails to dogs in the western side of the preserve.
The city released an advisory Monday (Sept. 13) after four visitors reported the encounters while hiking with their pets from May to September, according to Lester Hodgins, open space division supervising ranger.
The preserve is home to bobcats, mountain lions, snakes, coyotes and other wildlife, and a handful of sightings occur each year, according to preserve officials. But the recent coyote sightings have been described as "aggressive territorial" encounters.
The incidents occurred in the same area: two in May, one in June and one on Sept. 1. The trail was closed in May and reopened in July before recently being closed again, he said.
Hodgins said the coyote is likely a female with a den nearby. She would have given birth in April or May. For a protective female with pups, such behavior is not atypical against dogs. The coyote has not been aggressive to people who are present without a dog, he said.
The animal barked, growled or snapped at the dogs, coming from the side and from behind. One person yelled at the coyote and it departed, he said.
In an effort to protect both visitors and wildlife the following trails are temporarily closed to dogs: De Anza Trail, from the west entrance on Arastradero Road (near Alpine) to Meadowlark; Woodland Star Trail; Ohlone Trail; Bay Laurel Trail (see map).
Coyote sightings are relatively rare. The animals are usually shy of humans and run away, he said.
"We had thousands of visitors this summer and only six encounters, Two times the coyote was pacing a person," he said.
The coyote's protective behavior is a little late in the season, he said. Open space officials are consulting with a Fish & Game warden and will be talking to a biologist about when they could expect to open the trail. It could take another couple of months, Hodgins said.
Open space rangers are urging visitors to be aware of their surroundings while using the preserve and observe the following safety guidelines: Be aware that coyotes are more active when feeding and protecting their young; do not attempt to approach the animal; do not try to feed or attempt to tame the animal; do keep children close. If followed, make loud noises. If this fails, throw rocks. Fight back if attacked.
Some people have also reported mountain lion sightings and rangers recommend the following: Do not hike alone; do not approach a lion; do not run from a lion; do not crouch down or bend over; do keep children close; do all you can to appear larger; fight back if attacked.
Rangers are asking visitors to report any notable incidents to staff at 650-329-2423 or in an emergency, call Palo Alto Police Communications 24 hours a day at 650-329-2413.