A city official is warning Edmontonians about what to do if they encounter an aggressive coyote after a person and their bull mastiff were attacked by a number of the animals while walking in a green space earlier this week.
“The citizen was pretty lucky in this instance — in my opinion — and obviously it’s something that we’re going to keep a close eye on, and it is concerning for us,” Troy Courtoreille, the operations co-ordinator for the city’s Animal Control Park Ranger Peace Officer Program, told reporters on Thursday.
It happened in the Terwillegar Towne neighbourhood in the southwest corner of the city.
He said someone was walking their dog in the Thibault Park area at about 10 a.m. on Tuesday when “they came across a single coyote who was displaying aggressive behaviour.”
The dogwalker tried to scare the coyote away but was not able to do so.
“In the process of leaving, several other coyotes arrived on scene and the citizen and his dog were attacked,” said Courtoreille, without indicating if the dogwalker was a child or adult. “Right now, we believe there were five coyotes responsible for the attack.”
He said both the dog and its owner were treated for minor injuries. On Wednesday, at least two park ranger peace officers and a contractor went to the scene of the attack and two of the coyotes that were believed to have been involved were killed.
“Two coyotes were destroyed, a third was injured and a fourth was chased from the area,” Courtoreille said, noting it’s believed the injured coyote likely would not have survived.
An investigation is underway and Courtoreille said it is difficult to assess how concerning the situation is because the city is exploring two potential root causes of the attack. He said it is currently denning season and the attack may have been initiated by protective parents of pups in the immediate vicinity.
“They will take on larger animals if they feel that their pups are threatened or if there’s a perceived risk of pup safety,” Courtoreille said. “However, an incident of this nature is highly unusual and it’s the first one (involving multiple coyotes attacking a human at the same time) that we’ve had within city limits.”
Courtoreille noted the other potential root cause could be related to “reports a citizen was illegally feeding the coyotes which would prompt them to stay in the area continuously.”
He said those reports are still being investigated, but if found to be true, that could lead to a dangerous situation.
“Please do not feed coyotes. It habituates them and encourages them to approach people.”
Courtoreille noted that in this instance, if feeding in the area is confirmed and a suspect is identified, it would likely result in a mandatory court appearance given what happened. Normally, feeding a coyote can simply lead to a $500 fine. He added that feeding coyotes leads to aggressive behaviour that often hurts the coyotes in the end if the city decides the aggression displayed requires a response using lethal force.
“Fed wildlife is dead wildlife,” he said. “Destroying a coyote is always a last resort with us. It’s always a delicate balance between advocacy and wildlife management.
“Coyotes do serve a purpose within the urban setting. They control our rodent pest population like mice, voles and rats who can be really bad for spreading zoonotic diseases.”
Courtoreille stressed that he wants Edmontonians to know “this is a highly unusual incident.”
“Incidents like this within the city have been relatively uncommon,” he said, noting there was one attack on a human in 2020 and two in 2019. “A scenario like this is obviously a great concern for public safety.”
Courtoreille advised Edmontonians to consistently condition coyotes not to want to be around people if they encounter them by “hazing” them. He said the first thing people should to is make loud, abrupt noises — maybe even blowing a whistle — and if that does not work, to start throwing things at them. If they still do not leave, he said the incident needs to be reported quickly to the city.
“Anytime we see escalated behaviour, that’s when we need to be contacted and that information has to be reported to us as soon as possible,” Courtoreille said, noting his team has seen “an increase in coyote complaints citywide.”
“Since COVID(-19), what we suspect is that when everyone went indoors for the first couple of months of the pandemic, that was a clear signal for the coyote population to expand. We believe our coyote population (in Edmonton) went from about 900 to about 1,500 within the year following COVID. As a result of that, we’re seeing more and more complaints about coyote sightings and then increased incidents of coyote aggression as well.”
Courtoreille said his team has yet to find a coyote den in the Thibault Park area although they still suspect there is one there. He added that attempts continue to be made to find the fifth coyote believed to have been involved in the attack and the community will see increased patrols from his team because of the safety concern.
He said it is believed the dog that was attacked on Tuesday was leashed at the time.
“We know that there’s a den over there,” Brittany Primeau, who lives in the area, told Global News. “I don’t know why the city can’t come in and just move them.”
Jayden Courts was walking his labradoodle on Thursday in the same neighbourhood where the attack occurred earlier in the week. He said he has seen coyotes in the area, most recently just a few days ago.
“I usually turn back after I see a coyote,” he said. “I love my dog and I don’t want her to be attacked by anything.”
He suggested he was somewhat shocked to hear about the attack.
“It’s surprising because I think coyotes want to stay away from all the people and all the cars,” Courts told Global News. “I don’t want to be around where all the coyotes are. Getting kind of scared.”