A wildlife expert is providing some insight on what might be behind a number of aggressive coyote encounters in Calgary recently, with one “unusually bold” animal believed to have bitten people in the community of Nolan Hill.
According to University of Calgary geography professor Shelley Alexander, it’s denning season for coyotes and they have young pups they’re “intensely protective” of, which could partly explain their behaviour.
“While it may involve things that appear aggressive — doing things like snapping teeth and growling — it’s actually about getting you to go away rather than viewing you as prey,” she said.
Alexander, who has been studying human interactions with wildlife for about 30 years, says humans are encroaching on more animal territory, which also means they may inadvertently find themselves near a coyote den without realizing it’s there, leading to unpleasant and sometimes dangerous interactions.
“It’s not an abnormal thing to see an increase in events this time of year because it has to do with denning and pup-rearing.”
What is abnormal is attacks where people have been bitten, Alexander said, adding that on average, fewer than three people a year in Canada are attacked by a coyote.
She said in the cases where coyotes have been spotted acting aggressively in Calgary neighbourhoods, it’s likely because the animals have been conditioned to seek out human food, whether because they’ve been fed or because they’ve previously found food in the area.
Alexander also said in most cases where bold coyotes approach humans, the person is walking a dog, which means dog owners should be especially vigilant about keeping their pets on a leash and getting out of the area as quickly and safely as possible if a coyote appears.
“One of the things I hear is: ‘I had my dog on-leash and the coyote still came out.’
“The distinction here is that if your dog is on-leash and you’re too close to the pups or the den, it’s still going to provoke a reaction from the coyotes because they want you out of there.”
Alexander advises anyone who encounters a coyote while out for a walk or spending time in a park to quickly — but more importantly, safely — get out of the area.
“People have time to stand and videotape themselves and what they need to be doing during that time is bringing the dog in very close… moving out of the area,” Alexander said.
“(The coyote) may continue to follow them until they’re out of a comfortable zone and that’s called escorting.
“Don’t stand, don’t video and definitely don’t turn and run.”
Alexander said people should maintain eye contact and slowly and carefully get out of the area.
She also said people can “carry something foreign in the environment,” like a plastic bag, which they can make a lot of noise with to scare the coyote away.