RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Richmond Department of Emergency Communications has issued a warning about the possibility of coyotes in the Richmond area.

The department said in a post on their Twitter account that they’ve been receiving calls from Richmond residents about coyotes in the area. According to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, despite being primarily nocturnal, coyotes are commonly seen during the day in cities and the suburbs.

Coyotes are present in every county in Virginia. They can prey on small pets and eat discarded food or organic matter in compost piles.

Coyotes can also be beneficial in urban areas, however, controlling the populations of commonly-found animals such as rats, rabbits, groundhogs, deer and Canada geese.

Coyotes are naturally afraid of humans, but can become accustomed to them in highly-populated areas — and even act aggressive towards them. Once this happens, it is unlikely that the habituation process can be reversed.

The Department of Emergency Communications recommends taking the following steps to dissuade coyotes from taking up residence in urban and suburban areas:

  • If you are feeding wildlife, stop. This will cause them to lose their natural fear of humans.
  • Keep trash inside until the morning of trash pick-up or place trash in an animal proof container, such as a metal trashcan with latches on the lids.
  • Do not leave pet food outside; keep pet feeding areas clean.
  • Remove bird feeders when problem species have been seen around them.
  • Close up all openings under and into your buildings. Animals look for places to den and raise their young – don’t give them that opportunity.
  • Clear fallen fruit from around trees.
  • Keep brushy areas in your yard cut down to prevent cover for coyotes.
  • Keep small pets inside and on a leash when outside; they may be viewed by a coyote as prey. Larger dogs are viewed as a threat particularly from January to June while mating and birthing pups.
  • Pass along this information to your neighbors. If anyone in the neighborhood is feeding wildlife directly, or indirectly, it can cause trouble for everybody.
  • Install coyote proof fencing to protect unsupervised pets.

The department recommends taking the following steps if you encounter a coyote in your area:

  • Yell at the coyote while waving your arms above your head.
  • Throw inedible objects such as rocks and sticks in the direction of the coyote.
  • Use noise makers such as whistles, air horns or pots and pans.
  • Contact your local health department if the animal exhibits signs of rabies such as stumbling, foaming at the mouth or aggression.

The department also recommends calling the Wildlife Conflict Helpline at 1-855-571-9003 if you have a problem with coyotes.