LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Coyotes have become more of a potential threat in public parks, and health officials are warning residents to stay clear of the animals and never feed them.

An increase in coyotes spotted in residential areas and public parks has led city, county and state officials to urge the public to keep pet food and water dishes inside and maintain a close watch on children and pets.

Coyotes live throughout Southern California and can be seen year round, normally posing no threat to humans, wildlife experts said. But in a hunt for food, they may lose their fear of humans and become aggressive, according to officials.

When people feed coyotes, it encourages them to cluster in busy areas and approach people, officials said.

The main areas of concern for coyotes are open park spaces, hiking trails, brush areas, picnic areas and children’s play areas.

They issued a series of safety guidelines:

• Never feed coyotes;

• do not approach coyotes for any reason;

• closely supervise children in public parks and open spaces;

• keep pets on leash and close by at all times;

• keep pet food and water dishes inside; and

• secure food and trash at all times and remove all sources of water.

If a coyote approaches or acts aggressively, throw rocks, make noise, look big and pick up small children and pets, wildlife officials said, adding that no one should turn their back to the animals.

Parks officials have increased trash removal to twice a day and ensured that trash-can lids are coyote proof. Officials are also clearing brush to improve visibility, and increasing park ranger patrols.

Residents who spot a coyote frequenting schoolyards or playgrounds or acting aggressively were asked to call local animal control agencies or the California