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Jan. 28, 2022 | Friday
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Coyote attacks blamed on easy access to food
A man was bitten by a coyote on a farm near Virgil last Friday.

Coyote expert says culling ineffective, but preventive measures are crucial


A coyote expert says culling is ineffective, but preventive measures – like sealing garbage cans – are essential to curb coyote aggression, something the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake says it is already doing.

A farm worker was bitten Friday night on a grape farm near Virgil, adding another violent example to the increasing incidents of coyotes being reported in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Jamie Slingerland said an employee on his company's farm was bitten while sitting on his porch around 8 p.m. on Friday, June 8. The coyote approached the worker and bit him twice on the leg before running off.

The employee has since been treated for rabies and is recovering well.

The town has launched a coyote sighting form for residents to help the town track the animals' locations. To access the form and the town’s resource page on coyote safety go to

Slingerland said he has lived in NOTL for 60 years and has never heard of coyotes attacking or chasing individuals before.

Dr. Simon Gadbois, who studies canid psychology and behaviour at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said when coyotes grow comfortable around people “it’s almost always the same reasons and it has a lot to do with food.”

That means “either direct feeding or indirect feeding,” he said in an interview.

Direct feeding is when people leave out food or toss scraps to hungry coyotes. But indirect feeding is a more serious issue because it is more prevalent, Gadbois said.

It could be “something as simple as having an apple tree on your property. Apples fall down and you’re not picking them up.”

For years, Gadbois has been working with governments and municipalities to understand coyote behaviour and how they can be safely managed in urban environments.

He said most people associate coyotes with wolves but a better comparison would be raccoons.

“People don’t seem to think that (coyotes) have it in them to scavenge because they’re medium-sized predators,” he said. But, “they are as opportunistic as raccoons.”

Coyotes are omnivores, meaning their food sources can be very broad.

“There are pictures of coyotes climbing trees to eat apples,” Gadbois said.

When studying the coyote population in Nova Scotia, he noted that at certain times of the year their feces consisted mostly of fruit.

Fruit isn’t the only source of food that coyotes will search for as scavengers. They are prolific dumpster divers, Gadbois said.

Open dumpsters and public garbage bins with no lids are ideal places for coyotes to scavenge for food and leads to their increased comfort around people.

Parks and schoolyards can be of particular concern when it comes to open garbage bins.

“I was looking at coyote activity in a schoolyard and (as I approached an open garbage can) a coyote just jumped right out of it,” Gadbois said.

“And I remember thinking: ‘A full day of kids throwing bananas and apples and all that stuff in there. It’s a goldmine (for a coyote).’ ”

There was a direct correlation between the garbage bins and the presence of coyotes. Gadbois said throughout the summer, when there was no one at the school, the coyotes vanished. The problem began again in September, with the start of a new school year.

And while the coyotes were at the school scavenging for food, there were no attacks on children.

One of the most important ways to prevent coyotes from growing bold around people is to ensure that all garbage cans have animal-proof lids and that no food is left on the ground, even from bird feeders or fruit gardens.

Gadbois explained why the access to a food source is critical in understanding coyote behaviour.

“Coyotes don’t choose to be with humans if there’s not a good reason for them to be there,” he said.

“Human activity, the noise we make, our dogs – all that stuff makes them a little bit nervous and stressed, especially if they have dens around.”

Gadbois said reduced human traffic during the pandemic could be partly to blame, but stressed the main problem lies in food conditioning.

If these problems go unaddressed, “it’s just a matter of time before some kind of food conditioning develops in their minds and they associate humans with food,” he said.

As coyotes learn that food can reliably be found in and around human settlements, they begin to forgo their traditional sources of food.

“In extreme cases they may even see humans as the ultimate source of food. I’ve seen myself coyotes being hand fed by humans,” Gadbois said.

Once a coyote develops this association, “they will follow you, because they think that eventually food will come off you in some way,” he said.

Once a coyote begins to associate humans with food it opens up the possibility for the problems reported in NOTL.

Gadbois said a coyote chasing you is not a sign that it wants to attack you.

When you run away from a coyote it triggers what biologists call a sign stimulus. Their brain instinctively triggers the same response it would have to a prey animal.

“The way lots of predators work, in a strange way, is that if you run they go after you. They almost seem to not even be aware of why they do it,” Gadbois said.

Because of this innate biological mechanism, any time you run from a coyote it guarantees the animal will chase you.

“People riding on bikes seems to trigger them even more,” Gadbois said.

The professor said he has seen people get off their bikes, causing a coyote to stop dead in its tracks, only to start following again the moment the person starts riding again.

“The trick is, and it seems counterintuitive, is to get off your bike and put the bike between you and the coyote.”

Slingerland said is in favour of a coyote hunt to control the population.

“My grandfather, and some people don’t like this term, used to organize a hunt,” Slingerland said.

“The reality is this particular coyote needs to be stopped,” he said, adding he suspects an individual coyote is responsible for several attacks and instances of people being chased in the past few weeks.

However, Gadbois said culls and bounties have been proven to be an ineffective means of controlling coyote populations.

“Let's say in one year you kill as many coyotes as you possibly can,” Gadbois said.

“It gives a big chance for their prey populations to grow. So, the following year the few that are around have more food availability and less competition. Bouncing back of the population is common in less than two years.”

Gadbois also said transient coyotes will quickly take up the space of culled coyotes and their offspring will have a lower mortality rate due to the increase in available prey resulting from a cull.

When it comes to coyotes targeting pets, Gadbois said the chance for an attack on a pet increases at two very specific times of the year.

In the spring when a female is getting prepared to have a litter she can “get a little bit lazy and go after easy prey,” he said.

“And then you have a second wave, typically in late summer, when the young coyotes who don’t have a lot of experience are experimenting with stuff and trying to figure out what’s easy to catch and what isn’t.”

Gadbois also explained why the incidents involving coyotes in recent weeks have been limited to a single coyote and not a pack.

“Coyotes are monogamous. The pair bond is typically very solid,” Gadbois said.

While the mother is rearing the newborn coyotes, the male will be out hunting for the whole family. That would usually take place from May until sometime in June, when the mother feels confident enough to leave the juveniles on their own, he said.

Gadbois stressed the need for preventive measures.

“Municipalities have to look at their waste management,” he said.

In a coyote update at a committee of the whole general meeting, chief administrative officer Marnie Cluckie said the town is putting animal-proof lids on municipal trash cans and working with Coyote Watch Canada to figure out how best to deal with the animals.

Coun. Gary Burroughs asked Cluckie if the town had been in touch with any trappers to relocate the coyotes but she said there are serious safety issues for people and pets when deploying animal traps in residential areas.