Wild at Heart

As a longtime runner, Frisco resident Kimberlee Malin knew the possibility existed that she could encounter coyotes or wild animals while traversing the streets around her Panther Creek-area home. “I was always told they are more scared of you than you are of them. Just yell and they will never approach you.” However, during the pre-dawn hours of October 26, 2018, Ms. Malin learned firsthand that is not always the case.

That morning, Ms. Malin hit the pavement to continue training in advance of running the following month in the famed New York City Marathon. Alone and headed east on Eldorado Parkway, approaching Granbury Drive, she spotted a pair of eyes peering at her from the intersection and quickly determined it was a coyote staring back. “We both looked at each other. It was very close to me — a lot closer than I had ever been to one,” she recalls.

Assuming the animal would be skittish around humans (as most coyotes that live in urban areas usually are), Ms. Malin says, “I thought he was just as freaked out, so I was going to keep going on my path and that would scare him off. So, I kept going up the road,” she says. Instead, the animal advanced toward her on the sidewalk. Ms. Malin said she began jumping backward and kicking wildly in an attempt to scare it away. “I kept moving around in a circle and he kept trying to get behind me. It was probably like 10 seconds of him coming near me and trying to touch me. That is when I started screaming, ‘No, no, no. Get away, get away, get away!’”

A passing motorist happened upon the scene and blew their vehicle’s horn, causing the coyote to briefly retreat. It returned once more before the blaring noise finally scared it away for good. “I had an angel or somebody looking out for me,” Ms. Malin says. “It was kind of getting to the point where I think an attack was imminent.” 

Ms. Malin’s encounter with what local safety officials and state wildlife experts described as an “aggressive” coyote was one of five such incidents that occurred from late October through mid-December last year, along a two-to-three-mile stretch of Eldorado Parkway. Four people, including a young child, sustained injuries when the animal attacked them. In one case, a female jogger was hospitalized and underwent surgery after being bitten on the neck. 

While an unknown number of coyotes inhabit Frisco, Animal Services Supervisor Steven Lerner says the behaviors exhibited by the critter in question were not typical of most that roam the city. “This is the only incident in 12 years that we have had an aggressive one like this,” he explains. “They are curious and they will come close, but they have their boundaries. Normally, you cannot touch them.”

Animal Services, along with Frisco Police Department officers and representatives from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, coordinated on the case by stepping up patrols of the area, responding to calls of coyote sightings and setting traps to capture the creature, among other efforts. Frisco Police Public Information Officer Grant Cottingham says the department “made sure that we could devote as many resources as possible … with the goal of making the public feel safe.” 

On December 18, 2018, the police department announced that a coyote believed to likely have been related to the attacks had been “removed” from the area and sent for testing (the results of which were not available prior to publication deadline). 

Frisco is home to a wide variety of wildlife including bobcats, raptors, hawks and raccoons. Even white-tailed deer can still occasionally be spied frolicking in the remaining creek beds and wooded areas that were once the landscape norm here before it became one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. However, with additional residential and commercial construction projects of all shapes and sizes planned or already underway, questions and concerns have arisen over whether Frisco’s fauna will continue to survive and thrive as the creatures’ natural habitats disappear.

Case in point: Construction is set to begin by March 2022 on a 100-acre branch campus of the University of North Texas at Panther Creek Parkway and Preston Road, very near the locations of the 2018 coyote attacks. “It is not unusual to see a coyote in there,” Mr. Lerner says. “The creek that runs through there, that is nature’s highway.” Meanwhile, PGA of America announced last year it will relocate its headquarters to a 600-acre, mixed-use development to be built on an expanse at Rockhill Parkway and Legacy Drive. Scheduled to open beginning in 2022, the project is slated to include a pair of golf courses, a 500-room hotel and a 127,000-square-foot conference center, as well as retail and office space. Despite current and future development plans, Mr. Lerner says it is unlikely wildlife populations will ever abandon Frisco entirely. “No matter what we build, we will have coyotes in the area. They will stay here,” he explains. 

“As the city expands, we are just going to have to learn to peacefully co-exist,” Mr. Cottingham says. The key is educating residents. “With the number of new folks who move into Frisco ever year, it is almost re-setting the clock because they are not used to the wildlife that we are accustomed to seeing every day.” Earlier in the city’s development, he recalls, the police department would often receive late-night calls from residents of newly-built subdivisions who thought “they were hearing a wounded animal in the area. We would have to tell them those are coyotes. Once people realize that and become accustomed to it … they will understand.” 

However, Mr. Lerner does not believe construction has caused the local coyote population to become more aggressive. “We had a lot more reports because people panicked a little bit, so they called in for every one. Of course, that was a great education opportunity for us to talk about coyotes to people,” he recalls about last fall. He anticipates that Animal Services and Frisco police will again experience an uptick in calls beginning this month as the coyotes’ annual mating season gets underway. 

Sam Kieschnick is an urban wildlife biologist who oversees the Dallas/Fort Worth area for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. He worked alongside Frisco police officers and Animal Services staffers while investigating the recent coyote attacks. The species is particularly adaptable in city settings, he shares, referencing the findings from the long-running Urban Coyote Research Project, which has for years studied coyote populations in Chicago. He says, “They are literally living in parking garages and basically the cracks of the sidewalks is where they roam.” 

Wildlife “has three choices in all of life: It can adapt, it can move or it can die,” Mr. Kieshnick explains. “Even in the wild, there is always a new disturbance,” such as drought, floods and fires. “In the urban environment, they have to adapt to us (humans) taking over some of those open spaces. Fortunately, we like to leave some areas wild … and these are the spots that wildlife goes to for refuge. They will use parks; they will use ditches, or they will use the little area where the river runs through where people cannot develop as their new refuge.” 

That is not necessarily detrimental for either species. “It is kind of a remnant of the wild that is still here, even in the urban environment,” Mr. Kieshnick says. “It is a good thing they are here with us. They control rodent populations, they clean up the carrion and roadkill. So, they are doing a great ecological service to all of us.”

While many in Frisco continue to keep a closer eye on the wildlife around them, it is good news that we have not run these furry neighbors off just yet.