Los Angeles The coyote was limping as it approached a girl in a sand box at a public park - but it was still dangerous. It snapped its jaws on the girl's buttocks and her nanny had to pry the toddler from the wild animal.
Less than a week later, a coyote in a mountain resort town some 35 miles away grabbed a girl by the head and tried to drag her from a front yard until her mother scared it away.
A spate of coyote attacks in the fast-growing suburbs east of Los Angeles have left parents on edge and puzzled wildlife officials.
"Their aggressive behavior seems to be on the upswing," said Steve Martarano, a spokesman with the state Department of Fish and Game. "They just seem to lose their fear of humans."
Coyotes normally avoid contact with humans and hunt rabbits and rodents. But scientists said some that live near suburban developments are becoming bolder, raiding garbage or even attacking pets and humans.
An increase in coyote attacks on humans in the past decade is most evident in Southern California, where bedroom communities have quickly pressed into wilderness, allowing the canine scavengers to roam backyards for food.
Since the 1970s, more than 100 coyote attacks on humans in Southern California have been recorded, with half the incidents involving children age 10 and younger.
The only known fatality involved a 3-year-old girl in the foothill city of Glendale. She was fatally mauled in 1981.
"We're not sure what pushes them over the edge," said Robert Timm, a wildlife specialist with the University of California system. "There may be no single explanation for it."
One possibility is that coyotes give birth to pups this time of year and may need more food for themselves and their babies. Toddlers fall into the size of prey that coyotes would normally attack.
Another theory is that homeowners are unintentionally luring the wild animals by leaving pet food bowls outside or not securing garbage bins.
Game wardens don't normally hunt coyotes unless they pose a threat to people. After attacks, they trap and then shoot coyotes. They also carry shotguns or small-caliber rifles, but won't fire on the animals unless they get a clear shot.
Authorities dissuade people from hunting renegade coyotes themselves and suggest that they instead make noise or throw objects to scare them from neighborhoods.
Wardens have spotted the coyote that tried to drag a 2-year-old girl from her front yard Tuesday in Lake Arrowhead, about 65 miles east of Los Angeles, but did not have a clear shot to fire. They have since set up traps for it.
Authorities were also investigating reports of two possible attacks earlier this year in the same resort town in which a coyote may have bitten two young children in the buttocks as their father barbecued on the deck.