2 coyote attacks on Winnipeg kids a sign someone is 'likely' feeding wild animals, researcher suggests
Local city councillor suggests 'cull is called for'; researchers say lethal approaches may have complications
A coyote expert suggests one possible factor in coyote attacks on two kids about a week apart in Winnipeg's northeast is that someone is either feeding the wild animals or getting closer than they should.
A four-year-old was attacked in North Kildonan on Friday, less than a week after a nine-year-old was attacked within the same neighbourhood. Both were treated and released from hospital.
The back-to-back events have residents worried and conservation scientist Shelley Alexander reaching for an explanation that may not immediately ease those fears.
"It's really unfortunate because they're generally preventable events," said Alexander, founder of the Canid Conservation Science Lab at the University of Calgary.
"When they happen in tandem like this, my first reaction is ... someone has likely been feeding these coyotes, based on the behaviour that's being reported and the closeness of those events in time."
After the first attack on June 24, in the areas of Popko Crescent and Knowles Avenue, Manitoba Conservation alerted the public and described the coyote attacks as exceedingly rare.
After the second attack on Saturday, June 30, in the Headmaster Row area, the province said it was boosting conservation officer patrols in the community.
WATCH | Coyote, pups spotted near area of North Kildonan attacks:
Both happened within blocks of each other near a neighbourhood boundary that has fields and shrub and tree clusters to the north and northeast.
Residents have suggested they've seen more coyotes in the community recently. One man told CBC News he was followed by one during a walk recently.
North Kildonan city Coun. Jeff Browaty has lived in the area his entire life. He said the coyotes have only become a problem in recent years.
"It does seem like the populations are growing, and I think unfortunately perhaps a bit of a cull is called or," he said Monday.
Alexander said the perception that coyote numbers are rising "often is not the case."
Data suggests attacks and negative interactions between coyotes and humans and pets are more likely between now and the middle of July, as activity rises while parents and their pups begin to move away from dens, said Alexander.
She said attacks on humans are "exceptionally low" and there haven't been any significant increases in coyote attacks on humans in the past decade. There are fewer than three reports of coyotes biting or scratching humans annually across the country on average, she said.
But when reports of coyotes attacking or following people do arise, that often points to human interference.
"You can trace 100 per cent of the cases of humans being bitten by coyotes back to hand feeding or spending a lot of time with coyotes in proximity to them feeding them, and so that's going to be the No. 1 driver there."
Good intentions, negative impacts of feeding
University of Winnipeg biologist Susan Lingle studies predator-prey interactions between coyotes and deer in rural Alberta.
One study she cited tracked coyote attacks over two decades that found 142 incidents in total across North America, most of them concentrated in California and Arizona, with a number occurring in Alberta.
She said the study found no difference in the time of day of attacks, suggesting the animals that strike out have become habituated to human presence.
Lingle said in her experience it's probably more common for coyotes to get at trash or pet food humans have left out unintentionally.
But she suggested particularly in cities and urban areas, it is not uncommon for people to deliberately feed coyotes.
"Some individuals sometimes feel that they are doing a good thing for the animals. The downsides of feeding are extremely problematic because obviously the barrier between humans and coyotes starts to dissipate," she said.
"As our population expands, we are carving into the natural landscape more and more and we will have more and more encounters with wildlife ... so we will have to find ways to coexist."
She said she is "someone who would very rarely" suggest that lethal control is the answer but acknowledges that may be on the table for conservation officials.
"The challenge if we're just going out trapping, which sometimes is all that they may be able to do, is that a lot of other coyotes will die as a result," she said.
Alexander said lethal approaches, at this time of year, may not always be the best solution either. Killing one animal may "destabilize the situation."
"You can increase the conflict, because suddenly there's one parent caring for pups," she said.
The most effective approaches involve using "aversion conditioning" where you haze and train an animal to avoid humans and reset their boundaries.
She said the success of such a tactic in this case would depend on how acclimated to humans this particular coyote — or coyotes — may be by now.
Cordoning off the area to the public until about the third week of July, after which coyote activity may decrease, would also be wise, she said.
"Getting to the core of what's happening, what's leading to this, is really vital for the long-term for people to feel secure," Alexander said.
WATCH | North Kildonan residents on high alert:
Alexander has a section on the U of C website called Living with Wildlife that provides tips for how to coexist with wild animals like coyotes.
Some of the top tips she has when it comes to minimizing human-wildlife interactions is to avoid them entirely, pay attention to your surroundings and bring pets and kids close if you come across an animal. She says to stand your ground and make noise, and ensure bird and pet food isn't left in yards.
LISTEN | Two coyote attacks in 6 days have a Winnipeg neighbourhood on edge:
With files from Chloe Friesen and Cameron MacLean