A wild animal, believed by some to be a coyote, is causing increasing concern among Cherrydale residents.
The concern stems from Cherrydale resident Jay Stapf’s sighting of what he says were three decapitated fox heads on his back lawn this May. When Stapf went to retrieve his puppy, Stella, from the backyard, he was greeted by the sight of the severed heads.
“It was creepy, almost like when you bury someone in sand at the beach,” Stapf wrote in a report of the incident.
For the second time that month, Stapf called the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, who showed up to assist.
AWLA determined that a human didn’t sever the fox heads. They also suggested that Stapf install a motion sensor camera in his backyard in order to get further clues about the incident. However, Stapf says AWLA never followed up to confirm that a coyote was involved.
“We don’t know for certain [what they were] because they never came out and trapped them,” said Stapf.
AWLA Chief of Animal Control Alice Burton said that most of the time when people report coyote sightings to her, they turn out to be foxes, but this was a case that had her puzzled.
“It’s funny because I’ve reached out to professional naturalists on this and no one has a clue,” said Burton.
“Usually when we find decapitated animals, it’s kind of unusual. Heads are actually the first thing that animals eat,” said Alonso Abugattas, The Department of Parks and Recreations’s natural resources manager and one of the people Burton consulted with.
Sheila Dougherty, who walks Stella, had another neighbor who also reported a coyote sighting, so she decided to check with other residents on the Cherrydale email listserv.
“I think it’s good for everyone to know that there are coyotes in Arlington so that they can make informed decisions about whether to leave their dogs and cats out at night,” Dougherty said.
Eleven other members in the community wrote in with evidence of coyote sightings, with three others seeing a coyote as recently as this past spring.
Some of the sightings were indirect like Stapf’s. One neighbor reported seeing half a bunny in her backyard and the other indirectly reported a pet cat found dead through violent means.
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Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Area wildlife experts are warning area homeowners to keep their pets inside at night after a couple of recent coyote attacks — including an attack at Daniels Run Park in the City of Fairfax on Monday.
Arlington is no stranger to the predatory canines, which have easily adapted to surburban and urban environments across the country. After years of reports of sightings, county naturalists in April confirmed their existence with video from Potomac Overlook Regional Park.
But naturalists are discounting the threat from a coyote-like animal that some residents have caught on camera around the Rosslyn area.
Last week reader Katherine Doty emailed us with a photo of the canine (above), which shows it with a bird in its mouth near the Iwo Jima memorial. Another reader sent in the photos below of what appear to be the same animal around 9:00 a.m. today (Friday) on Route 50 near Rosslyn.
“Some other pedestrians and I think it was a coyote,” the tipster wrote.
The animal, however, is very likely a dog (or a fox) and not a coyote, according to county naturalist Christina Yacobi.
“That is not a coyote,” Yacobi said last week after taking a look at Doty’s photo. “That’s a really long tail for a coyote and coyotes have tails that are really bushy. They looked like they are dipped in ink. And they don’t have that long, pointy snout and those big, giant ears.”
Yacobi said it reminded her of a dog resembling an Ibizan hound or Pharaoh hound that went missing four years ago from a family traveling at Dulles Airport. Yacobi volunteered in the search effort.
Naturalists also say that spotting a coyote out in a populated area in the middle of the day is quite unlikely.
“Coyotes are very good at avoiding people, so residents shouldn’t be overly concerned,” Long Branch Nature Center naturalist Cliff Fairweather said in April. “The key is for residents not to feed them or encourage them not to be afraid of people. The longer they are afraid of people, the better it will be for coyotes and people.”
For a comparison, another shot from this morning near Route 50 and a file photo of a coyote (via Wikipedia) can be found below.
Now that we know for sure that there are coyotes living in Arlington, we’re starting to hear more reports of possible coyote sightings.
One resident sent along this tip and photo (above, left) after spotting what might have been a coyote in an Arlington park.
I was walking my dog yesterday morning (Sunday, 7:15AM) in Lubber Run and saw this by the bridge, at first I thought it was a fox, then realized it was too big to be a fox. Perhaps a coyote, it was definitely not a domestic dog. The tail was very long and bushy. It stood by the bridge for about a minute staring at me and my dog.
Photo (left) courtesy David Hartogs. Photo (right) via Wikipedia.