One of the world’s foremost experts on coyotes was at City Hall last week to give a presentation on co-existing with coyotes.
Dr. Stanley D. Gehrt, Professor & Wildlife Extension Specialist, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University and Chair of Research, Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, was in Ottawa to talk about coyotes. Although the problem has been an issue in the Rideau-Goulbourn and Osgoode Ward for decades, there are more and more instances of coyotes being aggressive in suburbs like Barrhaven. Last month, a coyote attacked and killed a dog in a field near the RCMP headquarters at Prince of Wales Drive and Merivale Road.
Dr. Gehrt is regarded as an international expert of urban wildlife and is the senior editor of the volume ‘Urban Carnivores’ published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Research interests focus on various aspects of mammalian ecology, especially in urban systems, and dynamics of wildlife disease.
“It is important to stress that our relationship with coyotes is directly affected by our behavior — coyotes react to us, and we can foster mutual respect or a lack of respect through cues we send to them,” Dr. Gehrt says. “Coyote removal is best employed as a solution only after education has been attempted or if there is an immediate, and obvious, threat to human safety.”
Although coyotes have been known to attack humans and pets, and as such are a potential danger to people, especially children, Dr. Gehrt says the majority of attack incidents could be reduced or prevented through modification of human behavior.
On his website, rubancoyoteresearch.com, he sites six easy steps to avoid conflicts with coyotes.
1. Do not feed coyotes
The number one most effective way to prevent coyote attacks in your neighborhood is to eliminate wildlife feeding. Coyotes that are fed in residential neighborhoods can lose their fear of people and may eventually test humans (and pets) as possible prey. Intentional feeding, such as bait stations in yards or parks, should be strictly avoided. However, many people unintentionally feed coyotes by leaving pet food or garbage out at night or having large bird feeders. Coyotes are usually not interested in bird food, but bird feeders often attract rodents, especially squirrels, which then attract coyotes.
If you are seeing an increase in coyotes, you should additionally review your own actions to ensure compost piles and trash bins are not allowed to be a source of food. Although coyotes seem to have a natural inclination to avoid human-related food, this can change when prey populations are low, or if the coyotes are young and haven’t yet learned to hunt effectively.
2. Do not let pets run loose
Coyotes probably live nearby, even if you don’t know it, so do not let pets run loose. When hiking in parks, keep dogs on leashes. Pets left outside, even with fencing, remain at risk for predation and unnecessary conflict. Do not leave your pets unattended outside, not even for a second. Remember, electric fences may keep your pets contained but do not keep other animals away.
Free-ranging domestic cats and feral cat colonies may also serve to attract coyotes; it is important that domestic cats be kept indoors and that feral cats be spayed or neutered to control this population. Bringing food inside when outdoor cats are not feeding might alleviate part of this coyote attractant.
3. Do not run from a coyote
When you encounter a coyote, shout or throw something in its direction. Do not run away. Do not play victim if you can help it. If a coyote seems intent on defending a certain area, particularly around pupping season (May), your best bet may be to alter your route to avoid conflict with a normally calm animal; understand that there may be seasonal patterns of behavioral changes and act accordingly (see Coyote 748’s story). We recommend if you are out walking that you carry some sort of noise maker with you (some have reported success scaring off coyotes by shaking a can of rocks).
If you see a coyote during the daytime, you should exhibit caution, as that coyote may have become habituated to humans (and may be more likely to attack). If you are approached by a coyote, you should yell, wave your arms, and/or throw something at the coyote (do not run away).
4. Repellents or fencing may help
Some repellents may work in keeping coyotes out of small areas such as yards, although these have not been tested thoroughly for coyotes. Repellents may involve remotely activated lights or sound-making devices. Fencing may keep coyotes out of a yard, particularly if it is more than six feet in height with a roll bar across the top. Spray repellents (pepper spray, etc) that you can carry with you have been reported with only moderate to no success.
5. Do not create conflict where it does not exist
If a coyote is acting as a coyote should by avoiding humans and pets, do not seek out opportunities to haze or otherwise aggravate the animal. Embracing communal respect is key.
6. Report aggressive, fearless coyotes immediately
When a coyote fails to exhibit fear of humans or acts aggressively, the animal should be reported as soon as possible to the appropriate officials. It is recommended that towns have a procedure in place to handle these reports. Signs of aggression are similar to those shown by domestic dogs and include agitated barking (unprovoked), raised hackles, snarling, growling, and lunging. These behaviors are usually preceded by other indications as shown in the chart below, though may change seasonally (see “suggestion 3” above).