Nature Nova Scotia

The Fuss Over Coyotes

Based on the tragic incident that occured in Cape Breton 3 years ago, there has been much attention and discussion paid to coyotes in Nova Scotia.  I often dismiss many of the stories I read in the local news about coyotes, as a topic that the media has jumped on-board with to grab people’s attention whether warranted or not.  To me, one very tragic incident throughout the coyote’s history of living in Nova Scotia, doesn’t seem to warrant all of the negative press they now receive.  Or is it warranted?  I decided to delve into the topic more deeply.

 Recently I went on a hike with my brother and nephews (age 5 and 4) to Blue Mountain.  I figured the hike wasn’t too lengthy or difficult for small children to do, and most of the path is well-travelled.  Our Sunday outing was quickly brought to an end as we encountered a sign that said DO NOT ENTER warned of coyote traps ahead.  Disapointed, we headed back for the car, as we weren’t going to take any chances with young children.  From previous trips to the Blue Mountain trail, I saw that it is a very popular area for locals to walk their dogs, and I imagine that coyote traps have got to be a pretty bad thing to put in an area frequented by dogs.  So why the frenzy over coyotes? Are they really that dangerous? What exactly is being done about them? And why are they now such a concern?
History: The Eastern Coyote was first recorded in Nova Scotia in 1977 and is the newest large mammal on the scene.  Their migration to Nova Scotia was the result of habitat change, forcing them to find new territory.  It didn’t take very long for coyotes to be wide-spread in the province due to their diverse diet and ability to adapt.
Eastern Coyote Bio:  Average  Male= 34 pounds, Female=24 pounds. Typically larger than western coyotes due to their distinct genetics from past inter-breeding with wolves. Average litter: 5-6 pups. They hunt in family units or packs. Diet consists of deer, mice, squirrels, snowshoe hare, fruit, and excellent at scavenging. Can live in urban areas.
Facts: There are no reported cases of Coyotes carrying rabies in Nova Scotia.  There has been one fatal attack on a human by a Coyote in Nova Scotia, the only other incident was recorded in California in 1981.  There are 3 records since 1995 of people bitten or attacked in Nova Scotia.  Since 1994 there have been 24 recorded human-coyote interactions resulting in injury (14% of all reported human-coyote incidents). Coyotes, like most other wild animals in Nova Scotia, prefer to avoid human contact.
  Given this info, why the uproar about coyotes? Was that one tragedy a completely isolated, freak incident, or is there a real issue here?  The government quickly responded by hunting down and shooting the coyotes responsible for the attack, and examining them for evidence of rabies or other reasons as to why these coyotes would be particularly aggressive.  Rabies was not found, and it is thought that the coyotes may have just been very desperate for food, causing the out of character behaviour.
 The result of the incident was widespread coverage in the media about coyotes in Nova Scotia.  Whether it was possible sitings of the animals in rural areas, incidents being reported much more readily, or discussion about a cull, the coyote had earned an infamous spotlight. After the widespread media coverage and pressure from the public, the government of Nova Scotia instituted a cull  in 2010 and again in 2011.  The cull was part of a new 4 step plan to control aggressive coyotes which also includes a biologist to study human-wildlife conflict, training more trappers, providing a pelt incentive, and increasing education about the animal.
 It is yet to be determined what effect the government’s new approach towards coyotes has had, but that doesn’t stop media from covering reports of sitings that otherwise wouldn’t have been news, and for people to question the merits of instituting a bounty on the animal.
 From my experience in the woods (4 summers of tree planting in Nova Scotia, and many years spent enjoying the outdoors) I have only seen or heard coyotes  from a distance.  To me,  there is nothing like being in the remote areas of Kejimkujik National Park, at night, watching the sun set over a lake, listening to the loons call, the frogs peep, the owls hoot and the coyotes howl.  It is nature functioning as it should.  Only when human encroachment is put into the mix does the balance get disrupted and problems arise.  I think following the usual rules of entering into the wilderness are all you need: Try not to travel alone, make some noise, carry pepper spray, a knife, or a stick, be aware of your surroundings, treat animals with healthy respect, but realize most of them want to avoid humans as long as they are aware of your presence.
What are your thoughts? Is the uproar about coyotes warranted? Has something changed to make them more agressive? Is the cull necessary? What other approaches could we take? Is this just hypervigilance resulting from one very tragic freak-incident? Please leave your comments below.
Greg Taylor
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