Number of coyotes sauntering down Calgary streets and snatching pets has leapt by 66% — but don't panic
'They are among the most clever animals I've ever studied,' says professor
They're in your backyard, snatching pets and sauntering down residential streets.
There are a lot of coyotes in Calgary, and the city is dealing with an increasing number of calls and complaints from residents.
There were 1,099 coyote reports to Calgary's 311 service line in 2018. That number increased last year by 66 per cent to 1,830.
Don't panic yet — Calgary's urban conservation lead says those numbers don't necessarily mean coyotes are taking over the city.
Chris Manderson credits more public education and awareness of the animals as a major factor in the increase of reported sightings.
"We really rely on Calgarians phoning in and telling us what they see," he said.
The top predators in the city have grabbed the attention of Calgarians in recent months as at least three dogs have been attacked by the wild canines.
Of the calls the city received last year about coyotes, just over 10 per cent were reports of them acting aggressively.
Guard your pets
Just because they're a normal fixture in urban parks doesn't mean you should drop your guard.
A man recently had to revive his Yorkshire terrier using mouth-to-snout resuscitation after coyotes snatched the tiny dog while he was throwing out garbage near Nose Hill Park.
Two other dogs were attacked in November, one that escaped with injuries and another that was never found. The city also warned dog park users in the southeast to be on alert for aggressive coyotes.
Alessandro Massolo, who helped lead the coyote division at the University of Calgary, says pet remains were found in coyotes' diets about three per cent of the time — mostly cats.
In 2014, the university estimated there were about 900 coyotes in the city. It's a hard number to pin down, since the city limits keep growing. That urbanization affects the coyote population.
"I think Calgary is actually expanding into the typical coyotes habitats," said Massolo, an adjunct professor who specializes in wildlife health ecology.
Another expert cautions to be extra alert over the next few weeks.
"It's breeding season, so coyotes are moving more and they tend to be more defensive at this time," said Shelley Alexander, a researcher at the University of Calgary.
She added you should keep a closer eye on your dog, leaving your furry friend on a leash if necessary.
"[Coyotes] tend to respond to territorial invasions by off-leash dogs," she explained.
Aggressive or normal?
Overall, the city determined the majority of coyotes spotted by callers were acting normally, including denning or protecting their young pups.
If a repeat aggressor is identified by the city, lethal force can be exercised. But Manderson says that's very rare since the city tries to take a "coexistence" approach.
Coyotes are natural pest control, culling populations of rodents in the city. The city and university keep close tabs on them through studies and projects.
Two years ago, the city started to haze the bolder coyotes by using chalk balls fired from a paintball gun that explode on impact. It was controversial, as some experts said it could injure the canines. In 2019, the city said it had been effective, with a 30 per cent drop in 311 calls for aggressive coyote behaviour in the first year of the program.
Residents can also ward off the animals by making loud noises, throwing sticks, clapping or making yourself look bigger.
Manderson says it's important people understand the difference between aggressive and normal coyote behaviour.
Having one of them watch what you're doing is common, but if they approach you, enter your backyard or stalk you, then it's a problem.
The city says the best way to protect yourself is to be educated and know what to do if you encounter a coyote.
Conservation experts say never feed them, make loud noises if you run into one, clear garbage and animal feces from your yard and keep your pets or children under supervision.
The city tries to inform residents how to behave around coyotes and then works to shape the behaviour of the animals as well, but it can be a challenge.
"We don't know a lot about these animals at the end of the day," Massolo said. "Personally, I think they are among the most clever animals I've ever studied."