BRAUN: Humans to blame for this summer’s spate of coyote attacks

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There are coyotes hanging out in several Mississauga school yards. 

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There have been a half-dozen coyote attacks in Burlington this year, and police are warning Scarborough residents about a pair of potentially aggressive coyotes.

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How did we get here? 

And how do we get back to coexisting peacefully with these wild animals?

The first part is easy:  humans feeding wildlife is how we got here.

Unfortunately, people continue to feed animals, sometimes without even knowing it — by not securing their food garbage, for example.

Human feeding is the source of almost every unpleasant interaction between humans and coyotes.

According to wildlife organization Coyote Watch Canada, situations like the coyote attacks in Burlington are entirely preventable. 

Coyote Watch Canada was not the only animal advocacy group urging that city to take action over wildlife feeding in its parks and green spaces.

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But the feeding continued. Now Burlington has shot and killed four coyotes.

And killing those animals does absolutely no good unless the feeding of wildlife stops.

Anyone who has trained a dog with treats knows how food rewards can alter animal behaviour. As Coyote Watch Canada states:

“The chronic feeding of wildlife, and particularly coyotes, has taught wildlife to approach people with an expectation of a food reward.”

Lesley Sampson, executive founding director of Coyote Watch Canada, has delivered the message about not feeding wildlife for many years.

Sampson is known for her educational sessions on coyotes and for her investigations, when municipalities with coyote issues call on her.

In a recent interview, Sampson said the situation with coyotes is straightforward.

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It’s the feeding of wildlife. The heart of the matter is what we do as humans. People must understand how their  behaviour manipulates wildlife,” said Sampson.

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Feeding squirrels in the park, keeping a bird feeder in your yard — these seemingly innocuous gestures are all part of the problem.

Bunnies and squirrels (and rats) come to your garden to eat the seed that falls to the ground from a bird feeder. 

Those little mammals attract larger predators, like foxes and coyotes. The bird feeder also attracts the notice of larger birds of prey.

“Nobody should have a bird feeder right now. There’s a serious issue with HPAI  — Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza — and the federal government has said they don’t want congregations of birds,” insisted Sampson.

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There are other food sources. Homeless people living rough in urban ravines and parks bring human food into the animals’ habitat.

“How do we return to reverence and respect for wild life?  There’s been an uptick in complaints about foxes, too,” said Sampson. “People want them killed as well.”

Coexisting with coyotes and other wild animals is entirely possible, she added. 

“We’re working toward creating informed citizens and enforcing the bylaws that are in place for a reason. There’s a fine for people feeding animals.

“What’s involved is common sense, and for the coyote, aversion conditioning — a way of shaping their behaviour and presenting opportunities for them to learn that there are boundaries.” 

And it works.

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“I’ve never met a coyote who did not respond,” said Sampson.

Even in a case last year with coyotes in a Scarborough cemetery — chronic feeding was the culprit — it worked. 

“Animal services was involved and everyone came together and worked collaboratively to restore calm to the landscape.”

People who feed wild animals should not be surprised when the animal shows demand behaviour — a bite or similar action. Then all hell breaks loose, thanks to what Sampson calls a cruel “environment of betrayal” for the animal.

“Coyotes are excellent hunters and foragers. They don’t need our help. They live in the wild. They are their own nation and culture.

“They don’t need the confusing message of people feeding them.”

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