A 19-year-old folk singer from Toronto has died after being attacked by two coyotes in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
Taylor Josephine Stephanie Luciow, who went by the stage name Taylor Mitchell, died overnight at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. She had been on tour in the Maritimes.
Mitchell was hiking on the Skyline Trail when she was attacked Tuesday afternoon. She was taken to the hospital in Cheticamp, then airlifted to Halifax in critical condition.
Park officials said Mitchell was walking the trail alone. They said other hikers managed to scare off the coyotes and call 911.
An RCMP officer shot at one of the animals but couldn't find the body. Later Tuesday evening, park staff located another coyote and killed it. Derek Quann, the park's resource conservation manager, said he doesn't know whether it was one of the ones involved in the attack. He said there were no signs on the animal's body that it had been shot.
Quann said he believes there are five or six coyotes in the area. Park staff were still trying to track down the other coyote involved in the attack Wednesday.
"One of the individuals may be dead now and may have gone off into the woods and died after some distance," said Quann.
Germaine LeMoine, a Parks Canada spokeswoman, said the hunt for the second coyote would go "around the clock." The trail where the attack happened has been barricaded.
LeMoine said even if a second animal is found and killed, the trail would not be opened until officials could conclude they had both coyotes involved in the attack and the trail was safe for the public.
Bob Bancroft, a retired biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, said this kind of attack is extremely rare and he's never heard of such a serious case in Nova Scotia.
He said coyotes, which are normally up to 50 pounds, are usually very shy, though they can be bold.
Coyotes can be found in rural and urban area across Canada. They often shy away from humans, but if one does approach, here's what to do:
- Be aggressive yourself: Wave your arms, stomp and yell loudly in a deep voice to deter it from coming closer.
- Stand your ground: Stay where you are and look it in the eye. Never run away; it is more likely to consider you prey, give chase and seriously harm you.
- Be prepared: The best defence is a good offence; carry a whistle, flashlight and/or personal alarm. This is especially important for small children who play outside or walk to school in areas where coyotes have been spotted.
- Stay together: If you are walking in an area that has high coyote activity, never do so without a companion.
- Don't lure them with food: Coyotes are scavengers. If you have pets, feed them inside the house rather than leaving food outside, don’t leave meat scraps or products in compost buckets outside your house, keep regular compost in an enclosed area and ensure garbage bins have tight resealable lids to keep out animals.
"In situations like a national park [where] usually there's no hunting and no trapping allowed, they can get used to a human presence and not have much fear of any retribution," Bancroft told CBC News.
It's unclear what happened in the woods on Tuesday.
When park staff arrived, Mitchell was already en route to Sacred Heart Hospital in Cheticamp, said Quann.
Bancroft said coyotes team up to take down deer, and it's possible the hiker didn't even realize what was happening.
"They may have snuck up on her and knocked her over before she even knew what happened," he said. "They may have been youngsters. They just may not have had a lot of experience, or they may have just capitalized on a situation where a young person was acting vulnerable and very frightened by their presence."
He said there's a slight possibility that the animals had rabies.
Quann said the coyotes might have been hungry or might have been protecting a kill. He said the animals that park staff saw Tuesday night were "quite agitated."
"Our experience in the past for any aggressive coyote which has been submitted for analysis, we haven't had one come back yet as having testing positive for something like rabies, although sometimes they will come back being emaciated animals, perhaps desperate and hungry," he said.
Bancroft had his own run-in with a coyote several years ago when he was alone in the woods.
"A coyote came straight at me. It happened very, very quickly. It stopped and I just stood my ground, I didn't act," he said. "It actually regrouped and charged again. And I think the fact that I didn't act like a prey item convinced it to leave me alone."
Bancroft advises hikers to be alert and leave their iPods at home. He also suggests carrying a knife.
The Skyline Trail, one of the most popular trails in the park, has been closed and barricaded.