Time, not trapping or hunting, may be the key for Nova Scotians to live comfortably with coyotes. That according to Hope for Wildlife director Hope Swinimer, just returned from seeing how Toronto and Chicago deal with urban versions of the animal.
People in those cities were subjected to the eastern migration of coyotes decades before it reached the east coast. Like Nova Scotia’s version, the coyotes in Illinois and Ontario have heavy doses of both dog and wolf genes. However, residents there have learned to comfortably share their environment with coyotes.
According to Swinimer, there has never been a human fatality in Ontario blamed on coyotes, which may contribute to the way people feel about the animal.
“I don’t think that it’s a matter that our coyotes are perceived as a little bit bigger or different,” Swinimer says. “I think the whole issue is that they’ve never had to face a death to a human like we have, and I think that’s why they do have a different attitude about them.”
“They basically treat them like foxes. There have been cases of people getting nips, but never an attack,” she says.
Mixed genes and varying habitat mean there are subtle differences among any pockets of coyotes established across North America. This was explained to Swinimer by biologists in Chicago. That city has an estimated 2,000 of the animal running wild in its urban areas, taking advantage of parks and green spaces and adapting its diet to whatever food is available.
”They said that every coyote in every pocket of North America is different,” says Swinimer. “The ones in Chicago are a tiny bit different than the ones in Nova Scotia, which are a tiny bit different than the ones out west”
Swinimer and staffer Rebecca Michelin spent time at the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation in Chicago. Unlike other Hope for Wildlife tours, this visit was to a research facility, not a rescue and rehabilitation centre. It allowed the Nova Scotias to get a different perspective on working with wildlife.
“It was really nice to spend some time with scientists and biologists,” says Swinimer. “All they are paid to do is collect data on the behaviour of the coyote. They say there are issues with the coyote, but no more so than with raccoons or other species of wildlife.”
Michelin and Swinimer spent nights in the field radio-tracking coyotes. Chicago residents were interested in what they were doing, commented on coyote sightings, but showed no major concern for human safety.
Swinimer says the message in Chicago is that coyotes are here to stay and people can learn to live with them. If there is a problem coyote, it can be dealt with, but if a well-behaved animal has included you in its territory, leave it alone. If you remove it, you never know what will take its place.
The wildlife workers in both Toronto and Chicago couldn’t understand the Nova Scotian fear of coyotes. For them, that doesn’t exist.
Ray MacLeod is a freelance outdoors writer and a finalist for this year’s Evelyn Richardson Award for non-fiction writing in Nova Scotia. He lives in Waverley.