A coyote unexpectedly killed a human in 2009. Now scientists know why

A coyote unexpectedly killed a human in 2009. Now scientists know why

In 2009, 19-year-old folk singer Taylor Mitchell was attacked by a pack of coyotes while taking a walk in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in canada I was about to start the popular Skyline Trail when hikers in the area spotted the animals nearby, without provoking them.

Bystanders called 911 and Mitchell was airlifted to a Halifax hospital, but 12 hours later, she died from her injuries.

This marked the first documentation of a coyote attack in North America resulting in a adult human fatality (in 1981, 3 years Kelly Keene was killed by a coyote on her family’s property), raising questions about whether it’s no longer safe to live with these furry mammals.

“We didn’t have good answers,” said Stan Gehrt, a professor in Ohio State’s School of Environment and Natural Resources and leader of the Urban Coyote Research Project. he said in a statement.

But after conducting a multi-year investigation into the incident, Gehrt appears to have finally offered some insight into the situation.

According to a document published last month in the Journal of Applied Ecology, he along with a crew of wildlife researchers found that coyotes in the region of Mitchell’s attack have adopted an unusual dietary change. Instead of relying on smaller mammals such as rodents, birds, and snakes for food, they seem to hunt moose for food due to extreme weather conditions forcing the former to move away.

As such, the team believes that these coyotes may have learned to attack larger mammals, such as humans, and are therefore more likely to kill people.

“We’re describing these animals expanding their niche to basically rely on moose. And we’re also going one step further and saying that they weren’t just scavenging, they were actually killing moose when they could. It’s hard for them to do -ho, but since they had little or nothing else to eat, that was their prey,” Gehrt said. “And that leads to conflict with people you wouldn’t normally see.”

Stan Gehrt with a captured coyote tagged and fitted with a tracking device.

Stan Gehrt

forensic coyote

Before and after the 2009 tragedy, Gehrt’s project also noted a few dozen less serious human-coyote incidents in the park. He and his colleagues even fitted them with what are essentially GPS trackers so they could document the animals’ movements and better understand why they behaved in such surprisingly vicious ways.

“We had been telling communities and cities that the relative risk posed by coyotes is pretty low, and even when you have a conflict where a person is bitten, it’s pretty low,” he said. “The fatality was tragic and completely off the charts. I was shocked, just absolutely shocked.”

To reach their conclusions, that coyotes in Cape Breton National Park were feasting on large moose, the team first collected whiskers from both the coyotes involved in Mitchell’s death and those related to other smaller incidents between 2011 and in 2013. Then they collected skins. from a wide range of potential coyote prey, including shrews, southern red-backed voles, snowshoe hares, elk, and even humans; for humans, they collected hair from local barbershops.

Seth Newsome, a professor of biology at the University of New Mexico and corresponding author of the study, performed an analysis of specific isotopes of carbon and nitrogen within all samples.

Finally, Newsome confirmed that, on average, elk made up between half and two-thirds of the animals’ diet, followed by snowshoe hare, small mammals and deer, according to the news release. In addition, the researchers analyzed coyote droppings, which further confirmed the isotope findings.

A gloved investigator puts a collar on a coyote that is lying on its side.

Here’s what it looks like to wear one of the GPS collar types, as done in this study.

Urban coyote research project

Interestingly, they also only found a few examples of individuals that had eaten humans fooddisproving any claims that coyotes’ attraction to human food may have been a factor in Mitchell’s attack.

“These coyotes are doing what coyotes do, which is when their first or second prey choice is not available, they will explore and experiment and change their search range,” Gehrt said. “They are adaptable, and that is the key to their success.”

Based on these movement devices, the team tested to see if the park’s coyotes were only familiar with people. However, the patterns showed that the animals largely avoided areas of the park frequented by people. Instead, they preferred to walk at night.

“The lines of evidence suggest that this was a resource-poor area with really extreme environments that forced these highly adaptable animals to expand their behavior,” Gehrt said. Or as the paper puts it, “our results suggest that extreme unprovoked predatory attacks by coyotes on people are likely to be quite rare and associated with unique ecological features.”

#coyote #unexpectedly #killed #human #scientists

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