Living peacefully with coyotes entails respecting their territorial boundaries

Coyotes "attack" (that is, bite or scratch) three persons each year on average in Canada. In comparison, an estimated 180 Canadians are struck by lightning each year. Critically, human feeding has been connected to 100 percent of coyote incidences. For almost 30 years, I've been studying coyotes and other wild canids. It is possible to coexist with coyotes. My understanding stems from a variety of experiences, including caring for orphaned coyote pups, studying the development of coyote play and communication, assisting in trapping and radio-collaring them, supervising multiple theses, and, most recently, years of monitoring a multi-generational coyote family. I interact with coyotes at close range and utilize aversive training infrequently, which entails establishing boundaries with my voice, body, and grasped item.

I'm frequently asked how residents may protect themselves against "violent coyotes." In my research, I discovered that coyotes seldom show aggressiveness, yet human fear of coyotes is widespread and outweighs scientific data. While unintentional, the employment of risk narratives (including inappropriate adjectives like bold, forceful) by scientists or the media has been shown to tap into existing concern; this is referred to as "social amplification of risk."

People, therefore, mainstream the concept that coyotes are likely to attack, rather than the more accurate narrative: coyotes are just trying to live and prefer to avoid humans. Coyotes respond to protect themselves, their partners, or their offspring from an actual or imagined threat, such as dogs chasing them or entering a den area, or a person poking at the den with a stick. Over 90 percent of the dog attacks reported in the reports I studied featured dogs off-leash and at-large.

Coyote responses are influenced by circumstance and experience; they are diverse and rarely aggressive. Habituation in cities may have resulted in slower or less dramatic behaviors in coyotes as compared to non-urban coyotes, which frequently flee from humans.

Conflict with coyotes is avoidable, but it occurs in the context of a number of human-centered reasons. Coyote habituation is frequently cited as the first culprit. This implies that coyotes acquire acclimation to human activities, learn to "tune them out," and focus their attention on other vital tasks, such as locating food.

Scientists typically try for animal habituation in wildlife observational study so that the observer can be in plain sight while remaining "invisible," enabling animals to do what they do. Coyotes learn to ignore people in the absence of urgent hazards.

However, there is a notion that habituation is negative and that coyotes should be afraid of humans. However, there is no evidence that coyotes' natural condition is to be terrified of people. This, I feel, is a colonial worldview that expects animals to be subordinate to people.

Habituation can generate proximity concerns, which can escalate to conflict if combined with food training, which is the purposeful or inadvertent feeding of coyotes. This occurs when homeowners fail to keep their yards free of food attractants such as dog food, birdseed, fallen fruit, or compost. A coyote learns to rely on that food supply, which increases the likelihood of the coyote defending food against humans and pets.

What is most detrimental to coexistence is when humans purposefully feed coyotes. Because it may ultimately demand food, this is generally a death sentence for the coyote. Coyote demand behavior may include a coyote latching onto a person's clothing or limbs in an attempt to obtain food, and it might be misinterpreted as aggressiveness or assault. Once a coyote bites a person, the prospects of rehabilitation are slim compared to the risk of escalation, and a coyote displaying this behavior would almost certainly be killed.

Several investigations on coyote eating in Calgary done in my lab revealed that fewer than 2% of samples had pet remains. Coyotes are not entirely to blame: the city has a bylaw forbidding free-roaming pets, which many people ignore, exposing their pets to death at the hands of owls, eagles, bobcats, domestic dogs, coyotes, and cars. Coyotes frequently scavenge, earning them the moniker "nature's cleanup crew."

Coyote pups are often born in early April, during denning season, and coyotes enter pup-guarding mode. As a result, there may be an increase in conflict between dogs and coyotes, almost entirely as a result of a perceived encroachment by a domestic dog.

Coyotes may initially warn by standing and looking, followed by vocalization, a bluff charge, and finally an assault on the dog if the owner does not promptly retreat. Coyotes may prefer certain den characteristics (for example, south-facing slopes) in non-urban settings, but in the fragmented green spaces that dot cities, coyotes may be forced to be resourceful, and the more disturbed they are by people or dogs, the more likely the coyotes are to move pups somewhere perceived to be safer.

Last year, at one research location, I saw hundreds of humans, many with dogs, stroll straight by a father or mother coyote with four puppies less than 30 meters away. The parent coyotes were measured, cautious, and avoided fighting on a regular basis. There were six reports of "aggressive" or "bold" coyote contacts that summer, out of thousands of probable interactions. There were no assaults or injuries in these rare occasions where a parent coyote either accompanied, bluff charged, or vocalized to discourage canines that were allowed to roam in confined areas. We have a peaceful wildlife co-existence program on the University of Calgary campus, which is centered on monitoring and investigation, education, enforcement, and mitigation. Our program ensures coyotes and surrounding communities continue to use the campus safely, promoting biodiversity and sustainability in the urban ecosystem, with the help of supportive staff and faculty, responsive deployment of signage or closures, removal of attractants, and the measured use of humane aversive conditioning.

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