Burlington coyote attacks likely result from human feeding

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Owen Barnes has encountered two coyotes in the past month while walking the trails in his neighborhood of Burlington, Ontario.

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When first encountered, a scruffy one entered the trail as Barnes left and they spotted each other about six feet away. A few days later, Barnes spotted another sitting under a bridge he was crossing.

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Both times he managed to leave without further escalation, but the encounters left him shaken.

« It was too close to be comfortable, » he said in a phone interview.

Burlington, on the western edge of the Greater Toronto Area, recorded what it said were its first reported coyote attacks on humans this year, while seeing a significant increase in encounters with the animals.

The city has killed several coyotes responsible for aggressive behavior, has formed a task force of police and wildlife control professionals to deal with the problem, and is urging residents not to feed the animals – which it says will is driving the increase in attacks on humans.

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« When people feed coyotes, intentionally or unintentionally, the coyotes become familiar with humans, are no longer afraid of humans, and show increasingly aggressive behavior, » wrote City Communications Advisor Carla Marshall. in a press release.

« Experts are convinced that these localized attacks come from coyotes that have been conditioned to view humans as a food source. »

Marshall said the city received photos of frozen dinners and a bushel of corn left on a trail near the site of an attack.

« This must stop as it attracts and conditions coyotes to depend on human food, resulting in muggings and attacks on residents, » she wrote.

The city has killed three coyotes it says were responsible for seven unprovoked attacks on humans since late August. A fourth was later killed because he was aggressive, unafraid of humans and « not exhibiting normal coyote behavior ». Meanwhile, the city council has approved increased fines for residents caught feeding wildlife or failing to keep their properties clean.

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Further east, the city of Toronto also struggles with aggressive coyotes. Local police on Monday warned residents to be careful after reports of two coyotes attempting to attack someone in the east.

Colleen St. Clair, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta, said coyotes’ aggressive behavior is usually the result of someone intentionally feeding them, causing them to lose their fear of people.

St. Clair, who created the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project in 2009 to study how coyotes live in urban areas, said whenever she has investigated outbreaks of attacks in her city, she has found evidence firsthand that they had access to human food. She also said coyotes could inadvertently lose food, including garbage, birdseed and, at this time of year, fallen fruit.

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When human-coyote conflicts do occur, St. Clair said there’s often speculation that the attacks are the result of urban development encroaching on their habitats, but it’s more likely that « coyotes are exploiting us. »

« Coyotes are really adaptable and flexible in their behavior, » she said.

« Most of the human-coyote conflict that takes place in urban areas is caused by the coyotes learning that they’re pretty safe in urban areas, that they don’t have predators there… that there are all kinds of food there and all kinds of places where they can safely nest.

St. Clair also noted that coyotes aren’t likely to be domesticated like wolves and dogs have always been, which could partly explain why they become aggressive when they start to see humans as sources. of food.

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The best way to promote human-coyote coexistence in cities and prevent lethal harvesting is through public education that emphasizes not feeding the animals, St. Clair said, in addition to the application of regulations prohibiting feeding.

For people living in areas where coyotes are known, St. Clair advised taking extra precautions, such as erecting taller fences around backyards and keeping pets on leashes and cats outside. interior.

People who run, walk, or hang out with children in natural areas must be prepared to defend themselves and deal aggressively with coyotes « with more than standing, waving, and cheering, » which, according to St. Clear, is not a very effective technique.

She recommended carrying something to throw at a coyote — even a bag of dog poop will do. Flashlights or umbrellas can also be effective tools to scare them away.

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« Throwing something shortens the distance between you and the coyote, and it teaches the coyote that you can potentially harm it even if you’re at a distance, » she said.

However, people should never turn their backs or run away from coyotes, St. Clair warned, because coyotes have an innate instinct to chase fleeing animals.

Euthanizing coyotes responsible for attacks on humans is what needs to happen once the animals lose their fear of people, she said.

« It’s always the result of food conditioning, » she said. « There’s really no way to restore human safety while conditioned animals stay in an area. »

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