Fox reported on school grounds was actually a coyote

COVINGTON — Newton County School System officials have determined that an animal seen in the area of South Salem Elementary and Liberty Middle schools is a coyote — not a fox as first reported.

The school system had set traps for the animal when it was thought to be a fox, but Sherri Davis-Viniard, director of public relations, said it isn’t certain now that traps will be used. “We are working with wildlife management specialists to determine the best course of action,” she said Thursday.

As a precaution students at South Salem, located on Salem Road in western Newton County, were kept off the playground for a couple of days this week after a parent notified the school Tuesday that a fox was seen on school grounds. Liberty Middle is adjacent to South Salem.

In May, two 6-year-old students were bitten by a wild fox on the playground at Rocky Plains Elementary School in southern Newton County. Traps were set for that fox as well, but it was not captured immediately after the incident.

"While we are very concerned about the safety of our students and want to be proactive, we cannot possibly eliminate all wildlife from our surroundings," Viniard said in a statement Thursday. "The elementary students have remained inside this week; however, plans are in place to allow them to go outside for recess on Friday. A school resource officer and of course teachers will be on site to monitor the grounds while students are outside. Plans are also in place to have the school resource officer at today’s athletic practices at Liberty Middle School."

According to the DNR, coyotes are two to three times larger than foxes, but it might be difficult to differentiate between the two when they are seen separately and there’s no basis for comparison.

Don McGowan, a senior wildlife biologist with the DNR, previously told the Citizen that it is not unusual to see coyotes in urban settings, but they are typically harmless to people.

“They’re not really any cause for concern unless you have small pets — cats, small dogs,” said McGowan. “Other than that, there’s really not much to be worried about. They tend not to bother people too much.”

Coyotes are not native to Georgia and may be hunted or trapped year-round. The DNR does not provide trapping services but maintains a list of licensed trappers permitted to provide the service across the state. The list is available at www.georgiawildlife.com (Select “Permits and Other Services” and then select “Nuisance Wildlife Trapper List”).

According to the DNR, the coyote resembles a small dog in appearance. Distinguishing characteristics of a coyote include pointy ears and snout, mottled color fur pattern ranging from black to reddish-blonde and a bushy tail.