To live in peace with coyotes is to respect their boundaries
On average, three people a year are “attacked” (ie bitten or scratched) by coyotes across Canada. By comparison, an average of 180 Canadians per year would be struck by lightning. Critically, 100% of incidents involving coyotes are related to human food.
I have studied coyotes and other wild canids for over 30 years. Coexistence with coyotes is possible. My understanding comes from many places: being a caregiver for orphaned baby coyotes, studying coyote play and communication development, helping to trap and tether them, supervising several theses, and most recently monitoring a multi-generational coyote family. for years. I interact with coyotes very closely and sparingly use aversive conditioning, which involves using my voice, body, and a held object to establish boundaries.
I am often asked how citizens can protect themselves against “aggressive coyotes”. In my research, I found that coyotes rarely show aggression, but the human fear of coyotes is pervasive and outweighs the scientific evidence. Although sometimes unintended, the use of risk narratives (including inappropriate words like bold, aggressive) by scientists or the media has the demonstrated effect of tapping into existing fear – this is known as ” the social amplification of risk”.
People then normalize the idea that coyotes are likely to attack, rather than the more appropriate narrative: coyotes are simply trying to survive, preferring to avoid people. When coyotes react, it is to protect themselves and their mates or pups from a real or perceived threat, such as dogs chasing them or entering a den, or a person poking the den with a stick. In the reports I have reviewed where dogs have been attacked, over 90% involved off-leash and loose dogs.
The reactions of coyotes derive from context and experience, they are varied and rarely aggressive. Habituation in cities may have resulted in delayed or less dramatic responses in coyotes, compared to non-urban coyotes which often desperately flee humans.
To live in town
Conflicts with coyotes are preventable, but when they do occur, they do so in the context of several human-centered factors. Habituation of coyotes is often the first culprit identified. This means that coyotes become accustomed to human activities, learn to “switch off” and focus attention on the most important things, like finding food.
In wildlife observation research, scientists often strive to habituate animals so that the observer can be in plain sight, but “invisible”, allowing the animals to do what they do. In the absence of immediate threats, coyotes sometimes learn to ignore humans.
Yet there is this myth that habituation is bad and that coyotes should be afraid of people. But there is no evidence that the natural state of coyotes is to desperately fear nearby humans. I believe this line of thinking is a colonial mentality that requires animals to be submissive to humans.
Habituation can lead to closeness issues, which can cause conflict if combined with food conditioning – the intentional or unintentional feeding of coyotes. It happens when people fail to keep gardens free of food attractants like dog food, bird seed, fallen fruit, or compost. A coyote learns to depend on this food source, which can increase the risk of the coyote guarding the food from people and pets.
What is most catastrophic for coexistence is when people decide to deliberately feed coyotes. This is often a death sentence for the coyote as it may eventually demand food. Coyote demanding behavior can include a coyote latching onto a person’s clothing or limbs in an effort to obtain food, and can be misclassified as aggression or attack. Once a coyote bites a person, the chances of rehabilitation are small compared to the risk of escalation, and a coyote exhibiting this behavior would likely be killed.
Several studies of the diet of coyotes in Calgary, conducted in my laboratory, have shown that less than two percent of the samples contained animal remains. Coyotes aren’t entirely to blame: the city has a bylaw prohibiting loose pets, which many people ignore, subjecting their pets to possible death by an owl, eagle, bobcat, dog household, coyotes and vehicles. Coyotes are often content to scavenge, earning them the label “nature’s cleanup crew.”
Coyotes cubs are usually born around early April, known as whelping season, and coyotes go into cub-guarding mode. As a result, there may be a spike in conflict between dogs and coyotes, almost exclusively due to perceived intrusion by a domestic dog.
Coyotes may first warn by standing and staring, this will progress through a vocalization, a bluff charge, and then an attack on the dog if the owner does not retreat immediately.
Coyotes in non-urban situations might prefer certain den features (e.g., south-facing slopes), but in the fragmented green spaces that dot cities, coyotes can be forced to be resourceful—and the more resourceful they are disturbed by people or dogs, coyotes are more likely to move cubs to an area perceived to be safer.
At one study site last year, I observed hundreds of people a week, many with dogs, walking past a coyote father or mother with four cubs within 30 yards. Coyote parents were measured, cautious, and consistently avoided conflict. Of the thousands of possible interactions that summer, there were six reports of “aggressive” or “bold” interactions with coyotes. In these rare cases, a coyote parent either escorted, bluffed or vocalized to repel dogs allowed to roam in closed areas – there was no attack or injury.
On the University of Calgary campus, we have a Peaceful Wildlife Coexistence Program, based on monitoring and investigation, education, enforcement, and mitigation. With the assistance of supportive staff and faculty, responsive deployment of signage or closures, removal of attractants, and measured use of human aversive conditioning, our program ensures that coyotes and communities surrounding communities continue to use the campus safely, promoting biodiversity and sustainability in the urban ecosystem. .
Eating human food could cause problems for urban coyotes, study finds
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