Nova Scotia

Study shows coyotes stay close to people

Parks Canada staff are looking for ways to limit coyotes' interaction with humans.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park wildlife manager Derek Quann displays maps of coyotes' locations from GPS trackers. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

After the death of 19-year-old Taylor Mitchell in 2009, Parks Canada began tracking coyotes in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, to try to find a way to limit their interactions with humans.

The park is tracking eight animals with GPS collars, to learn more about their territories.

Wildlife manager Derek Quann says one thing they have learned during this five-year study is that the animals spend a lot of time near humans.

"The fact that they occupy the more highly populated areas is not all that surprising, and it's somewhat expected," said Quann. "Coyotes will go wherever they can get enough food, and where they judge that the risks are acceptable."

They coyotes seem to have learned that humans are unlikely to harm them, and may even feed them. There have been no incidents of aggression, and few of coyotes approaching humans, but there were two that concern park staff. Quann said recently hikers met a coyote on the Chemin du Buttereau trail.

"They were travelling one direction, the coyote was travelling towards them," he said. "The coyote didn't seem interested in leaving the trail or fleeing, and indeed, when the people stopped and got off the trail, the coyote kind of stopped there and looked at them, as if expecting something, like maybe a food handout. And when the people left, the coyote followed.

Earlier this week, hikers met a coyote that was foraging for mice on a busy walking trail, and it didn't move when they approached.

More 900 park visitors have been surveyed on their knowledge of coyotes, and park staff are trying to teach visitors to stop feeding the coyotes, directly, or by throwing away things like apple cores. They also hope to reduce the risk by teaching the coyotes to fear people, using loud noises, said Quann.

But those that do approach people will have to be put down, he said.