Native American legend portrays the coyote as the ultimate trickster. At Lake Tahoe, that personification could be considered reality.
Under the cover of the night sky, clever coyotes cruise through South Shore neighborhoods in search of an opportune meal. Overflowing garbage cans and open trash bins provide an excellent feast for the furry opportunists.
But experts say it's when the sly creatures master the art of Dumpster diving when problems arise.
In Stateline last summer, seven people were bitten by coyotes that had become dependent on humans for food, a habit that can bring out aggressive behavior in the normally demure animals. In an effort to protect public safety, 20 coyotes in the casino area were killed by Nevada Animal Damage Control.
Rhonda Moore, supervisor of the Douglas County Animal Control, said thinning out the coyote population last year reduced the problem greatly this year.
"We've had a couple of calls in Roundhill of humans coming in contact with coyotes this summer," Moore said. "But no reports of bites so far."
El Dorado County is trying to avoid drastic measures like these by educating the public, especially Lake Tahoe's crowds of visitors, said County Supervisor Dave Solaro.
"Coyotes are intelligent. Once they've been fed they will come back again and again to that source, and then someone's pet is missing," he said. "I think the locals are aware of the problem but not all our visitors are."
In hopes of spreading the message, El Dorado County paid for reprinting of the California Department of Fish and Game brochures about living with coyotes. The literature will be passed out to area vacation rental agencies.
"We want to educate the visitors. They are new to wildlife and might think coyotes seem cute and approachable," Solaro said. "They don't realize the problem they create when they do feed them."
Tom Davis, owner of the Tahoe Keys Resort property management company, said most of his clients stay in the Lake Tahoe area for about a week. The majority, he says, come from a city environment.
Davis said he has seen coyotes, five at a time, trot through his neighborhood near the Bijou Community Golf Course, in the center of town. But complaints about coyotes from renters has been down. Still, he's planning on handing out the literature to clients.
"We haven't had any coyote calls; we've had more calls about bears this year," Davis said. "What we're more concerned about is people feeding the birds and geese because they stay in Tahoe instead of continuing on their migratory path."
Brochures are available at the El Dorado County offices at 3368 Lake Tahoe Blvd.