There's been some fairly odd and aggressive behavior by one or more coyotes in the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park recently, which may have something to do with a litter of coyote pups spotted there this spring.

Coyotes are known to menace and sometimes attack dogs, particularly during pupping season in San Francisco's parks — experts say the coyotes typically just want to "escort" or scare the dogs away from a den area, but the behavior can be terrifying to humans, and at least a few pet dogs have been killed or injured in recent years. But coyotes coming up to humans and their children is rarer, experts say, and usually has something to do with food and the animal being conditioned by humans previously offering food.

That doesn't sound like the case with at least one coyote who has been emerging from woods in the Botanical Garden and running frighteningly close to small children in broad daylight. As SFGate reports via tips from mothers who were in the park on June 18, a coyote quickly approached two small children, ages 1 and 2, who were playing with a ball in the grass. The two-year-old ran scared to her mother, but the one-year-old froze and her mother leapt into action, making eye contact with the coyote and causing it to hesitate.

The two mothers were convinced the coyote would have bitten one of the children.

"It was definitely not normal coyote behavior, and the fact it happened multiple times in the same day is not normal," said one of the mothers, Monique Pflager, speaking to SFGate. Pflager actually knows what she's talking about, having worked as a wildlife rehabilitator with the Coyote Project in the Marin Headlands. "I’ve never seen such a healthy coyote that wants to go after healthy kids."

SF Animal Care & Control confirmed the sighting, and another that happened later that same day that was likely the same animal. In that incident, a coyote appeared in the Great Meadow in the Botanical Garden and first approached two 15-month-old twins.

The mother told SFGate that she picked up her kids and left, but the coyote "stayed in the area for a while. People were shooing it away. It didn't leave until people slammed the garbage lids."

According to Deb Campbell, a spokesperson for Animal Care and Control, the incidents are being investigated. "We don’t know what the coyote was thinking," Campbell tells SFGate. "It was probably more food related but then it’s for the experts to look at that behavior. We take this very seriously. We have experts who we consulted."

One recent set of incidents in the East Bay involving a highly aggressive coyote that bit five people — including two toddlers — ended with the coyote being killed by authorities on March 11. The coyote tested negative for rabies, though that was an immediate concern.

The Botanical Garden has signs up explaining that coyotes have been seen in the area, and some parts of the garden are closed to foot traffic as well.

But after the pandemic left so much of the city empty (though not Golden Gate Park so much), coyotes had the run of the place for months, showing up a lot of places they didn't used to.

There's currently no clear estimate for how many coyotes are living in San Francisco's woodsy areas, but it's in the hundreds — and those seven pups will be juveniles soon.

Be careful out there with kids and dogs!

Photo: Unsplash