Fairfax County Animal Protection has seen an increase in the number of coyote-related calls since a rabid coyote bit three adults, two dogs and an officer last month.
“The recent incident of the rabid coyote at Lake Accotink has understandably created concerns for many residents about wildlife and public health and safety,” the Animal Protection Police said.
However, they say rabid coyotes are relatively rare, and none of the calls have indicated the animals sighted have rabies.
Coyotes are well-established in the county, and it’s normal to see them in parks and residential neighborhoods. They generally avoid human contact. The coyote that was spotted in June displaying signs of rabies — biting vehicle tires and other aggressive behavior — was killed after he bit an officer.
Since then, there have been 12 calls for service related to coyotes in the Springfield area. Seven of those reported coyote sightings involved the animals living close to people but displaying normal behavior, two reported injured coyotes, and the others shared concerns.
Animal Protection Police says most of the behavior reported is not indicative of sick or rabid animals, “especially given the time of year with coyotes raising pups.” Park ecologists were also monitoring the site and did not detect any unusual wildlife behavior on camera, police said.
“Based on the information received, the Animal Protection Police and Wildlife Management Specialist do not consider there to be an increased threat of rabies at Lake Accotink Park,” Animal Protection Police said.
In one call reported in June, a coyote followed a person on a trail, but when Animal Protection Police arrived, the animal was gone.
“The event notes stated the coyote seemed to be displaying normal behavior per the conversation with the caller,” police said. “The behavior described sounded like the coyote was engaged in ‘escorting’ behavior where coyotes will sometimes escort people and pets out of their territory, especially if there might be a den nearby.”
Another call in June reported a coyote “circling, barking, and snarling” at Greentree Village Park, and on Monday, July 18, a caller said he was approached by coyotes twice in Lake Accotink Park but was able to scare them away.
“The caller was fearful that the coyotes might attack him and requested an escort from the park,” police said. “A patrol unit provided him a ride out of the park. There was no mention of symptoms or behavior consistent with rabies in the event notes.”
Police said most of the calls were not within the immediate Lake Accotink area and were reported several miles from the park throughout the greater Springfield area.
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A coyote reportedly bit multiple people in the Springfield area this weekend, including a police officer who shot it.
The Fairfax County Police Department says it received a report around 8 a.m. on Saturday (June 4) of three adults being bitten by a wild coyote in Lake Accotink Park. The animal also bit two dogs, police later confirmed.
Animal protection officers launched a search of the park and coordinated with the Fairfax County Park Authority to clear it and close it to visitors. A police helicopter provided assistance, but the search wrapped up after dusk with no more coyote sightings.
The coyote reportedly resurfaced yesterday morning (Sunday) in the neighborhood along Carrleigh Parkway.
“Community members had seen the animal biting tires, which is indicative of rabid behavior,” FCPD Lt. Dan Spital said in an afternoon press conference.
— Fairfax County Police (@FairfaxCountyPD) June 5, 2022
“The animal snuck up behind the officer, and it did bite him in a lower extremity,” Spital said. “The officer discharged his weapon several times and did kill the coyote.”
Medics responded to the scene and transported the officer to a hospital for treatment. All four of the people who were bitten by the coyote are expected to make full recoveries, police say.
Lake Accotink Park reopened at 3 p.m. yesterday, according to the park authority.
The coyote will be tested to confirm whether it had been infected with rabies. Results from the Fairfax County Health Department will likely be available tomorrow (Tuesday), the FCPD told FFXnow.
As of early May, Fairfax County had recorded 11 rabies cases this year, nearly all of them among raccoons. There have been reports in Arlington and D.C. of foxes carrying the disease, which affects the nervous system and is typically fatal if it reaches the symptomatic stage.
UPDATE: While searching the woods near the 7900 blk of Carrleigh Parkway, an officer was bit by the coyote. The officer discharged his firearm to end attack. The coyote was found dead nearby. The officer was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. https://t.co/Zrx9rGZE4g
— Fairfax County Police (@FairfaxCountyPD) June 5, 2022
Photo via Ross Sokolovski/Unsplash
The county has had 11 cases of rabies this year out of 72 tested animals, a typical amount, rabies program manager Bryant Bullock said on Tuesday (May 3).
The positive cases have involved 10 raccoons and a groundhog.
“Our whole area has been endemic for rabies since the…early 1980s,” he said. “Our numbers are trending typical.”
The county usually has 40-60 confirmed cases of rabid animals per year, with bumps in the spring, summer, and end of the fall. About half of the cases involve raccoons, a third foxes, and another third skunks, but the disease has also been detected in bats, cats, groundhogs, and beavers, Bullock said.
He said people should avoid wildlife acting strangely, either overly aggressive or overly friendly.
“We track all potential exposures to both humans and domestic animals, and if a human has been exposed, we recommend the treatment,” Bullock said.
Bullock says rabies shots for pets are the best protection for people. He stressed the importance of reporting any bite or scratch from any animal.
Fairfax County’s Animal Protection Police can also be contacted for animal bites, animal cruelty or neglect, and sick or injured wildlife.
Additionally, Bullock says people should contact animal protection police any time a bat is found in a home, adding that an officer should respond and the bat shouldn’t be let out of the home. Doctors can advise on next steps, such as getting rabies treatment.
Totaling around 300 per year, reports of bats found indoors are common in Fairfax County because the area is home to several species of structure-roosting bats.
Photo via Pete Nuij/Unsplash