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Coyote concerns

‘There is a need to co-exist with wildlife,’ says geographer

Research

By Meaghan Whelan

You are more likely to be struck by lightning seven times before being attacked by an animal predator.

With odds like that, why are people so worried about the presence of coyotes? Dr. Alistair Bath, Department of Geography, has studied coyote/human interactions, particularly in Cape Breton Highlands National Park and on the island portion of our province He will participate in an information session this week about coyotes in St. John’s.

Here, he speaks with Gazette contributor Meaghan Whelan about coyotes in the province.

MW:  Are coyotes common in Newfoundland?

AB: Coyotes first appeared in this province on the West Coast in the mid-1980s, so they are still relatively new here. Right now there is limited data available on how many exist, although we do know they are now everywhere on the island. It’s not unusual to see coyotes in urban areas.

“If we learn from other jurisdictions across North America, we should learn to co-exist with wildlife, including coyotes.” — Dr. Alistair Bath

They are naturally expanding their range and are found throughout North America. In many cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver, there are coyote populations in the thousands. In places on the mainland where residents have  built a tolerance and acceptance for wildlife, coyotes have been spotted in city parks and they’re not seen as a threat towards people.

MW: Should people be concerned about coyotes in their neighbourhood?

AB: Coyotes are wild animals. Not long ago there was a coyote spotted in St. John’s and schools were locked down. People are very much afraid of this new carnivore to the island, but the reality is that the risk to people is extremely low. There has only been one fatality in North America, in Nova Scotia in 2009. The media coverage and the fact that it happened so close to home likely contributes to the high fear levels in Atlantic Canada. You are more likely to be struck by lightning seven times than to be attacked by a predator—and that’s not just coyotes, that includes any predator: coyotes, wolves, bears, etc.

Dr. Alistair interacting with a captive socialized wolf at Wolf Trust in the United Kingdom.
Dr. Alistair Bath studies what it means to co-exist with animals, such as this captive socialized wolf at Wolf Trust U.K.
Photo: Submitted

There are instances of coyotes attacking cats and small dogs. Obviously it’s a concern to pet owners, but in terms of likelihood it’s still a rare event. I have a cat that spent a lot of time outdoors for the past 15 years and have seen coyote scat even on my lawn in Middle Cove, and I haven’t tried to restrict her wanderings in light of the coyote population.

MW: What should someone do if they see a coyote?

AB: Coyote sightings are still rare, so I’d ask them to try to take a picture and enjoy a species that has readily adapted to our human landscape. There are a few things people can do if they are concerned about coyotes. Homeowners can keep their grass short so that it doesn’t create a welcoming habitat for rodents. If you have fruit trees, don’t leave the fallen fruit in the grass to be scavenged. Keep your property free of garbage and debris. Obviously, never feed them or leave pet food outside. As is typical of any carnivore, if they are fed and begin to associate people with food, it creates a problem.

If you’re out walking and see a coyote it will likely turn and run. They are typically terrified of you. Some people choose to carry a big stick as a tool to use in case a coyote shows signs of approaching. Never run, this indicates a predator/prey relationship. Instead, act big and make a lot of noise. They will likely be more scared of you than you are of them and by acting big and noisy you can scare them away. Coyotes are only about 25-40 pounds, so it’s important to keep in mind these aren’t the massive animals that people seem to believe are out there.

MW: How should the province deal with the coyote population?

AB: Coyotes are a public wildlife resource and in my field of human dimensions I choose to listen and learn about the beliefs, attitudes, values and desires of various publics toward wildlife. If we learn from other jurisdictions across North America, we should learn to co-exist with wildlife, including coyotes. With coyotes in particular, various cities have taken the initial approach to try to eradicate them from the region. Those communities have slowly learned this approach doesn’t work and moved towards taking out individual coyotes that cause problems. Eventually, most communities follow the approach taken in Vancouver, which is to recognize that co-existence is both possible and desirable. Newfoundland and Labrador has the opportunity to learn from other jurisdictions and follow existing best practices. Rather than trying to eradicate an entire animal population from the province which really is impossible, we can start to build tolerance and acceptance for wildlife.

Dr. Bath will participate in an information session on coyotes on Thursday, April 14, from 7-9 p.m. in the cafeteria at Roncalli School, Airport Heights, St. John’s. Conservation officers with the Forestry Services Branch of the Forestry and Agrifoods Agency will also present.


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