Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Coyotes: A tragedy with a lesson

Coyotes live and breed in Oakland County, a dynamic and wild presence in the woods, suburbs and cities. They are here because their food source is abundant: mice, rabbits, geese, geese eggs, dead deer, suburban fawns, trash, cat food, cats and even on occasion small dogs that run off leash. They have not been driven out of the woods as some in the media have claimed. But there is a problem; these highly adaptable predators – which I find fascinating – are adapting to our ways more quickly than we are to theirs.  Before I write another sentence, let set my bias straight: I am sadden and shocked by an incident that barely made our news, but I still like coyotes.
A horrifying interaction in Cape Breton Highland National Park in Nova Scotia late last week does not bode well for those of us that are not willing to alter our behavior.  The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has confirmed that a 19 year old woman, a young athletic, healthy musician who was hiking a popular trail alone, was attacked and killed by a pair of coyotes.   Exactly what happened will never be known but witnesses found her trying to fight off the coyotes and responding officers shot one.  Biologists suspect that these coyotes were bold and lost all fear of humans. They surmise perhaps she ran, perhaps she tripped.  Mostly likely she acted like prey, they capitalized on the situation and responded as predators and killed her.  Not out of anger. Not out of starvation.  The coyotes had become used to a human presence without retribution and saw an opportunity. Whether they looked at her as a meal or a territorial trespasser will never be known.   I am sure, based on some e-mails that more than a few residents of our county would like to find a way to make Oakland coyote-free. That's not going to happen. They are found throughout the state. And true tales, not just tall tales tell the same tale: coyotes that do not run away, coyotes that eat out of cat food bowls, coyotes that hike the same trails we hike.  Coyotes have learned by watching our behavior that we are weak, we are afraid, we run and we are of no concern. That situation needs to be changed. If you encounter a coyote, never ever run. Stand tall. Wave. Yell. Throw anything but foods.  We need to watch their behavior, be bold and practice aversion condition: creating negative stimuli that makes them shun humans. That's good for us and even better for the coyotes.  And let's keep things in perspective: 1,648 humans were injured in deer related crashes in Michigan in 2008. Twelve died. We don't fear deer; we try to drive in an alert fashion. We need an educational campaign on how humans should act around coyotes; we already gave them theirs.


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