Furry fear-mongering: Coexisting with coyotes (and other wildlife)

 

What’s the deal with all the coyote hysteria on social media?

Anyone who’s a member of a Facebook or Reddit neighbourhood group, dog park group, pet adoption group, vegan group, mom’s group, stepmom’s group, high school reunion group, baking group… alright, you get the point.

It doesn’t matter which group you’ve joined, you’ve likely seen a post or two about a ravenous coyote ripping a Cocker Spaniel from its owner’s grasp and devouring it while his coyote buddies watched and laughed (probably). You may have even seen posts about a coyote attacking a toddler or stealing a newborn.

The typical coyote post is accompanied by a caption that reads something like, “Friends! Keep your dogs and children inside! My hairdresser’s daughter had the same thing happen to a friend of hers!”

Is it ignorant fear-mongering for its own sake? What if there was a way to actually coexist with the wildlife we’ve tormented through decades of infrastructure development and needless trapping and killing?

The truth about the dangers of coyotes is a little complicated because it largely depends on where you live, what time of year it is, and whether the threat of a coyote mauling is proportionate to your response of locking up your pets or children for 9 months out of the year.

“In cities, the sight of a coyote creates a sense of panic among people who are afraid that the animal will attack domestic pets or small children,” wrote Emily Cook from the Ontario SPCA. “In rare cases, coyotes have injured children or killed domestic animals, however, there are generally extenuating circumstances surrounding the event.”

Obviously, those who live in rural areas are more likely to encounter a coyote but sightings are becoming more and more prevalent in suburban and urban settings and that’s our own fault.

“In an effort to coexist with wildlife, consider the enormous hardships these intelligent and fascinating wild species encounter because so much of their habitat has been destroyed,” added Cook.

“Each year they are forced into closer contact with humans and must compete with us for food, shelter and space. With a little understanding, patience and a few precautions and common-sense steps, we can all enjoy the wonderfully interesting wild animals who share our backyards and cities.”

The rapid expansion of urban boundaries has created a loss of habitat and green space for wildlife. In fact, it’s created even smarter and more resourceful animals based on basic evolutionary principles. With coyotes specifically, dens are destroyed through human activities, forcing resilient coyotes to respond and adapt.

Understanding why wildlife is coming on to your property is an important first step towards coexisting, as coyotes especially play an important role in the area's biodiversity and ecological integrity.

“There are few animals in North America that have undergone more extensive persecution than the coyote,” continued Cook. “Despite all attempts to exterminate this fascinating animal, the coyote remains a steadfast resident of our ecosystem.”

“Today in our modern cities and suburban rural areas, coyotes continue to be the victims of bad publicity and general ignorance. If we take the time to appreciate the unique and important role that coyotes play in our environment, perhaps more people would make the choice to co-exist peacefully with them and fewer would call for their elimination.”

The easiest and often most ignored common-sense measure that can be used to avoid conflict with wildlife is not providing a food source on your property.

“Coyote sightings often increase as a result of humans intentionally or unintentionally providing a food source and people conclude they are seeing multiple coyotes when, in fact, the same coyote is making numerous visits to the same area where it has found a consistent food source,” according to Coyote Watch Canada.

“Overflowing bird feeders, mishandled compost and fallen fruit attract a diverse range of prey species such as rodents, squirrels, chipmunks and insects, which coyotes will utilize as food. Consider that the birds and small mammals that frequent bird feeder stations are potential prey food for other predator species such as owls, hawks, fox and domestic pets.”

The number of coyote sightings often coincides with the time of year. They can be more prevalent during mating season (Jan. and Feb.) and pup rearing season (March to June) when coyotes seek out suitable dens. Coyotes are also more vocal during these times, with a series of high-pitched yips, barks, and howls.

Other tips from Coyote Watch Canada for a peaceful coexistence include:

  • Partner with local TNSR (Trap Neuter Spay Return) or Adoption organizations that promote feed and remove programs for feral cats.
  • Keep trash cans covered.
  • Supervise your pets and keep them under strict control. Adhering to leash by-laws, accompanying pets on walks, and not allowing them to roam is in the best interests of your pets. Our pets are at risk of many environmental dangers when they are not under our control: owls, eagles, hawks, foxes and coyotes can all prey on smaller pets.
  • Keep chickens, rabbits and other small animals in covered enclosures, constructed with heavy mesh wire. Coyotes, raccoons and weasels can break through chicken coop wire.
  • Neuter your pets. Although a rare occurrence, coyotes may mate with domesticated dogs.
  • Do not approach coyotes, their dens or their pups, even if it appears the parents have abandoned them. Coyotes will do their best to avoid human contact but may attack humans when provoked, sick or injured.
  • Teach children about wildlife and how to safely respond to a coyote nearby.

What if you do come face to face with a coyote?

  • Pick up small children and pets
  • Never run from or turn your back on a coyote/fox/wolf/domestic dog
  • Wave your arms above your head, stomp feet, clap hands. Surprise gestures work best.
  • Slowly back away. Maintain eye contact and never run.

It’s not that the threat of a coyote attacking your pets or children isn’t real. The issue is with how unhelpful information is disseminated and how excited people get when presented with the opportunity to create hysteria.

The next time your neighbour shares a news story about a coyote picking the lock on the front door of a home and ransacking the fridge before hogtying the family dog and forcing it to listen to Coldplay, educate them on common-sense coexistence.

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