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Is it possible to live with coyotes in the city of Calgary?
I have a conflict with coyotes...who do I call?
What can you do to help coexist with coyotes in Calgary?
Is there a conflict problem in Calgary?
How concerned should I be that a coyote might bite me?
What do we know about why coytes have bitten people in Canada?
What causes habituation?
What did the research tell us about the seasonal diet of coyotes in Calgary?
How do coyotes get human food?
Is there a pattern of behavior that evolves before a coyote tries to bite someone or kill your pet?
Who is Coyote (Canis latrans)?
What is an Urban Coyote?
Why bother to co-exist with urban coyotes?
What do coyotes look like?
Distribution
Do coyotes live alone or in packs?
Reproduction
Impact of Lethal Control
Literature Cited

Is it possible to live with coyotes in the city of Calgary?

Yes! And we currently are. Most of the time people and coyotes live together peacefully in the City of Calgary and across Canada. On occasion, coyotes do get into conflicts with people and pets.

If a coyote chases or bites a person, or is observed chasing or attacking a pet, this can create a wave of media attention. This can create a perception that there is a rise in human-coyote conflicts, especially in urban areas and unnecessarily create widespread fear about coyotes: fear for pets, fear for children, and fear for self (Alexander and Quinn, 2008). To understand the many aspects of human-coyote conflict and to promote co-existence, we created the Calgary Coyote Project (Department of Geography, University of Calgary).

The Calgary Coyote Project was first tasked (2006-2008) with researching when, where, how and why coyotes get into conflict with people. This aspect of our research was conducted in collaboration with the City of Calgary (311) and examined the diet of coyotes and reports about coyote sightings or interactions that were provided by Calgarians to the Calgary 311 Coyote Hotline. Our results are presented later in this webpage.

A principal aim of the Calgary Coyote Project was also to address the lack of research on coyote ecology in Calgary. As such, our project has provided baseline data about what coyotes eat, and these results are presented later in this webpage. The ecological study has continued and expanded, and we aim to understand urban coyote ecology, including what they eat, where they eat it, whether it is related to conflict, if there are differences between urban and rural coyote diets, and to identify what foods might be attracting coyotes and resulting in habituation.

At present, researchers in Calgary have reviewed literature, evaluated reported coyote encounters and conflict, examined the diet of coyotes across the city, identified parasites common in coyote feces, and investigated newspaper reports of coyote attacks in Canada for the past 10 years. The results of all our work are posted to this website (see the Resources section).

We are providing updates of our research, recent results, and publications through the Living with Coyotes website, with the aim of helping people understand how to co-exist with coyotes in our city.

I have a conflict with coyotes…who do I call?

If you or your pet is bitten by a coyote you should contact the Government of Alberta, Sustainable Resource Development Offices (403-297-6423) and the City of Calgary, Coyote Hotline (Dial 311). You can make an entry to the Living with Coyotes website, but our researchers have no authority to manage or remove coyotes from your neighbourhood. However, if you report a major event to our website it will be automatically sent by email to the agencies with authority (previously noted).

What can you do to help coexist with coyotes in Calgary?

Through research conducted by the Calgary Coyote Project and a review of relevant literature (see the RESOURCES section on this website), we have identified a number of key actions that will help people to co-exist with coyotes in Calgary or other cities, and these include:

*Report encounters to the authorities and researchers

*Store garbage, compost and pet food so that coyotes cannot access it

*Never feed coyotes by hand or otherwise

*Remove dog food or other pet food from yards

*Remove any food attractant that a coyote can access, including birdseed

*Remove fruit from and clean up fallen fruit around fruit trees (all year) - coyotes can climb trees to eat fruit

*Do not treat coyotes like tame animals and approach them

*Leash dogs in known high conflict areas or sites with lots of coyote activity

*Be especially aware of your pets during the denning season (April-June) and the dispersal period (September-October) - these are the highest risk times for conflict

*Leash dogs during the denning season, even if you are in an off-leash greenspace

*Stay away from densites or rendezvous sites, coyotes will attack dogs that run into the densite area (coyotes do not lure dogs to densites)

*Watch for changes in coyote behaviour (e.g. are you seeing them more, are you hearing them more, are they coming closer than before) and report changes in behaviour

*Chase coyotes away (e.g. yell, wave a large stick) if they come to your back fence or into your yard, and do not stop until the coyote leaves the area. US cities, including Denver, have developed a program of experts who can haze coyotes and re-instil fear. Please contact our researchers if your community needs this activity and do not engage in it without proper training.

*Take responsibility to educate yourself and neighbours about living with coyotes

Is there a conflict problem in Calgary?

Conflict represents a very small portion of coyote encounters in Calgary. Fewer than 5% of reported incidents are "conflicts", where a person or pet has been followed or bitten (Lukasik and Alexander, 2011). There are reports of coyotes biting dogs, and coyotes killing cats and small dogs in Calgary, but serious negative encounters between people and coyotes are very infrequent. Notably, there has been one event in 2005 where two children were bitten by a coyote in Confederation Park (CBC Broadcasting). While rare, this event was significant, as it marked a change in human-coyote relationships and perception in Calgary.

We have identified three critical pieces of information about coyote conflict in Calgary:

1) Coyote conflict reports are significantly higher at two times in the year

a. the pup rearing season (April-June), when coyotes may be in the den or have pups to protect.

b. the dispersal period (September-November), when young relatively uneducated animals are leaving their pack for the first time.

2) Certain neighbourhoods have higher levels of conflict (shown in the map below)

3) Neighbourhoods with greater conflict are areas where coyotes eat more garbage, which yields strong evidence that a coyote problem is the result of human behaviour.

Seasonal reports of coyotes by conflict level. Level one excluded in order to display levels 2 to 5 (i.e. increasing level of contract from coyote was curious/stood ground to coyote chased/attacked pet)

Explanation of Seasonal Differences:

Seasonal differences in conflict: Coyotes can be more aggressive during the denning season if people or pets get too close to the densite. In these cases the coyotes are most likely protecting their den of young pups. The den site area is not just the excavation where pups are born, but includes a perimeter around the den. While that are may differ from site to site, the critical issue is that coyotes will defend this den site "zone". The best advice is to keep your pets safe: LEASH YOUR DOGS DURING THE DENNING SEASON, EVEN IN DESIGNATED OFF LEASH PARKS.

Differences in conflict reporting between neighbourhoods:

There are some common themes that emerge about neighbourhoods with higher rates of reported conflict with coyotes. Those neighbourhoods with worst problems show evidence that coyotes eat more garbage, that people have been allowing coyotes to lounge or rest in close proximity to them, and houses or apartments tend to back onto a greenspace or ravine that provides very good coyote habitat (e.g. Stanley Park).

IMPORTANLTY, THE NEIGHBOURHOODS IN CALGARY WITH THE HIGHEST RATES OF REPORTED CONFLICT WERE ALSO THE SITES WITH THE HIGHEST AMOUNT OF GARBAGE IN THE COYOTE DIET.

Lukasik and Alexander (2011) examined public reports to Calgary 311 of coyote encounters reported by Calgarian between 2005 and 2008. In these 3 years there were 1684 reports of coyotes: 1499 (89%) of reports were simply observations, 99 (6%) were non aggressive close interactions and 86 (5%) were classified as conflict (where a pet or human was approached, felt threatened, or the pet was bitten). The reports were mapped by these categories and shown below with levels of conflict from low (white) to high (red):

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How concerned should I be that a coyote might bite me?

The number of people that get bitten by coyotes in Canada is VERY LOW. In Calgary there has been only one case of coyotes biting humans, which was noted above, and occurred in Confederation Park in2005. Across Canada, the incidents involving pets and coyotes are higher than for people. Research that examined 10 years of print media reports has indicated that an average of 2.4 people per year were scratched or bitten by coyotes in Canada (Alexander and Quinn 2008). This is consistent with U.S. research, which has determined approximately 3 people per year were bitten by a coyote. The following additional statistics are provided for comparison of risk of coyote attack relative to other daily risks (Statistics Canada 2009):

*Over 460,000 dog bites per year in Canada

*Over 3.4 million dog bites per year in USA

*200 people per year struck by lightning in Canada

* 7 people die PER DAY in traffic accidents in Canada

What do we know about why coyotes have bitten people in Canada?

A significant finding in Alexander and Quinn's (2008) research is:

ALL CASES WHERE A PERSON HAS BEEN BITTEN BY A COYOTE IN CANADA, THE COYOTE HAS BEEN FOUND TO HAVE HUMAN FOOD IN ITS' STOMACH.
Leading researchers in Canada (Carbyn 1989, Gehrt 2004) and across the globe, supports that when a wild carnivore becomes used to eating human food it becomes `habituated` and this leads to conflict with people.

What causes habituation?

Habituation can occur in a number of ways, including:

1) If coyotes become comfortable around homes and never have negative (or scary) encounters with people they can lose their fear of people.

2) When coyotes have trouble getting adequate food and start to eat human food (e.g. garbage or fruit in a yard), they can become dependent on that food source

What did the research tell us about the seasonal diet of coyotes in Calgary?

In summary, the Calgary Coyote Project found that coyotes in Calgary consume mostly natural foods: small mammals and native fruit bearing plants.

Unfortunately, 1 out of every 6 scats contained garbage or human food sources. This indicated that coyotes in Calgary are accessing garbage at a relatively high rate. Also, crab-apples and bird seed were commonly found in coyote scat. Combined, the access to human food sources that we identified likely has lead to habituation of some coyotes. Importantly, the areas where high levels of human food were found also were the areas with high reporting of coyote conflict to Calgary 311. A summary graph is provided below, and full reports are available in the research and publication page of this website:

Percent Relative Frequency of Occurrence by food type for coyotes in Calgary (Lukasik and Alexander, 2011)

A positive finding was that only 3 of 500 scats (less than 1 percent) contained evidence of pet remains. Thus, coyotes may be unfairly portrayed as killing pets. The research also showed that the consumption of pets occurred in the areas of Calgary where coyotes were consuming the highest amount of garbage.

How do coyotes get human food?

Across Canada and the US, people deliberately feed coyotes: Some people like to keep wildlife near their homes and will feed wild animals in order to see them. Other people feel sorry for wild animals and will leave food out to keep them alive. Other times people accidentally feed coyotes (e.g. putting out garbage in back alleys too soon before pick up, leaving bird seed or dog food in back yards, leaving fallen fruit from trees on the ground). Whatever the reason, people do regularly feed coyotes and this leads to habitation.

Is there a pattern of behaviour that evolves before a coyote tries to bite someone or kill your pet?

While the incidence of coyotes biting people is very low in Canada and the United States, there is a trend in coyote behaviour that precedes these events (note: this is an observed trend but has not been proven through research, yet): first there are multiple reports of coyotes approaching pets and people, followed by reporting of more aggressive behaviour towards pets and people (e.g. chasing or killing), followed by reports of people being approached in increasing frequency, followed by clear contact or attack of a person.

Importantly, Alexander and Quinn (2008) found that in all cases reported to the Canadian media, coyotes that attacked humans had been eating human food. In all cases reported to the Canadian media, coyotes that attacked people had been eating human food. This means that citizens have a critical role to play in reducing conflict with coyotes.

ECOLOGICAL BACKGROUND

Who is Coyote (Canis latrans)?

Coyotes are one of a handful of existing carnivores that evolved on the North American continent. Canis latrans (literally "barking dog") has been in existence in its' current form for over 1 million years. It evolved from a species Canis lepophagus that is believed to have existed on the North American continent up to 7 million years ago. Except for being slightly smaller C. lephophagus was otherwise identical in form to our present day coyotes. Importantly, to survive for millennia, a species must be highly resilient (replenish their numbers quickly) and be able to survive on many different food sources (i.e. a generalist), and be quick to adapt to new situations (Bekoff and Gese 2003). This is the main reason why coyotes are able to adapt to and live in urban environments.

What is an Urban Coyote?

Urban coyotes are those by definition that live in urban settings. When coyotes live in close proximity to people, they can become habituated by learning to eat garbage, human food sources or livestock, and this can result in conflict with people and pets (Gehrt 2004). In this way, urban coyotes may be different than their rural cousins. Biologically speaking, they are the same animal: Behaviourally speaking, the urban coyote may differ in that they have learned over time how to exploit human food sources, may have lost fear of people, and through a process of surviving the urban environment (e.g. being able to cross roads without dying), they may have become more urban saavy (see photo below).

Coyotes have high behavioural plasticity: A coyote hitches a ride on Portland transit (Feb 2002, Portland News)

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Why bother to co-exist with urban coyotes?

Research in North America has shown that coyotes play a critical role in maintaining ecosystem function (Baker and Timm 1998, Crooks and Soule 1999, Bekoff and Gese 2003). For example, coyotes were found to help maintain breeding and migratory bird populations, because they preyed on smaller carnivores such as feral cats and mustelids (Crooks and Soule 1999). In addition, it has been suggested that coyotes help regulate white-tail deer, gophers, and Canada geese, which can be problem animals in urban environments (Gehrt 2004, Piccolo 2002).

What do coyotes look like?

The coyote is a medium-sized member of the North American canid (dog) family. It has pointed ears, a slender muzzle, and bushy tail and is thought to resemble a small German shepherd or collie. Coyotes are usually a grayish brown with reddish tinges behind the ears and around the face, but coloration can vary from a silver-gray to black. The tail usually has a black tip. Eyes are a striking yellow, with large dark pupils, rather than brown like many dogs. Most adults weigh between 25 and 35 lbs., although their heavy coats often make them appear larger. (Cook County Coyote Project)

Coyote feet are quite similar to medium-sized dogs, with four toes and a heel pad in an oval shape, approximately 6.5cm in length. Often, coyote tracks on the ground show claw marks for the middle two toes, whereas dogs typically have a circular print and claws for all toes usually registered (Cook County Coyote Project)

 



Source: (http://www.stanleyparkecology.ca/programs/conservation/urbanWildlife/coyotes/coyotesign.php)

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Distribution

The ancestral coyote (Canis lepophagus) had a distribution that spanned most of North America during the Pleistocene (Bekoff 1982, Fox and Papouchis 2005). Today's living coyote is called Canis latrans and is estimated to have lived on the North American continent for over 1 Million years. Its' distribution as reported by early European explorers can be seen in map below (Fox and Papouchis 2005). Current literature suggests that pre-1850 coyote was only found in the most southern parts of Canada through to south central US and the northern Mexico.

Current literature also postulates that there was an expansion of coyotes from 1850 to present (see map below). The expansion is attributed to the widespread killing/eradication of wolves and other large carnivores throughout North America. The removal of large carnivores is believed to have opened up a vast region of habitat for coyotes that was free from competition. At the same time, European settlements expanded north, providing ample food sources for coyotes. It is expected that in the eastern US and Canada at least, this settlement resulted in an influx of coyotes to those areas.

Canis latrans is presently found across most of North and Central America, from California to Newfoundland, and from Alaska and the Canadian Northwest Territories to as far south as Panama. Importantly, much of the area depicted in the current distribution is either developed as high density urban regions that may in fact not support the same density of coyotes found in undisturbed habitat.


Source: (Fox and Popouchis)

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Do coyotes live alone or in packs?

Coyotes typically have a highly organized social system, even in urban areas (Fox and Papouchis 2005). This social system consists of packs, or groups of coyotes that apparently defend territories from other coyotes. The degree of social cohesion, or how much time they spend together as opposed to independently, depends in part upon the availability of good habitat and food.

The conventional wisdom is that coyote packs consist of family members, and the size of these packs can vary greatly across geographic regions and habitat types. In theory, only the alpha pair (male and female) of a pack will reproduce and subordinates may help raise the litter. In times of population pressure (i.e. harsh winters or elevated mortality by human hunting) more animals and younger animals may breed to compensate for losses in the overall population (Beckoff et al 1986).

Although coyotes live in family groups, they tend to travel and hunt alone or in loose pairs, consuming small mammals such as rodents (Fox and Papouchis 2005). Solitary animals also may be seen when individuals leave the family group and are looking to join another pack or create their own territory (i.e. dispersal). There are however, examples of coyotes hunting in packs, in which case they are able to take down larger prey like deer or small elk. Gese (2001) reported that coyotes travelled and hunted in packs in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Kitchen et al. (2000) observed packs in south eastern Colorado, and Patterson and Messier (2001) observed packing in Nova Scotia. Packing is particularly common during denning and pup rearing (Harrison and Gilbert 1985). Coyote pack size may be as large as 10 coyotes, excluding pups (Fox and Papouchis 2005) but are typically much smaller in most areas. In most instances, urban coyotes live in solitary pairs or small packs (3-5 individuals). The latter is the case for Calgary, where ephemeral packs exist primarily in parks of significant size and resource availability, such as Nose Hill and Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Reproduction

Coyotes generally produce one litter per year in the spring (April or May), which may contain between 4-8 pups (Carlson and Gese 2008). Pups are born into a natal den and alternative densites may exist where pups may be located if they are perceived to be threatened. Breeding typically occurs in January or February, and the gestation period is approximately two months (Fisher et al. 2000). It is often thought that canids are monogamous. While coyotes (as with wolves) tend to be monogamous, they may not necessarily mate for life - they may change partners - but a pair will often breed together for several years (Scotter and Ulrich 1995). Female coyotes can breed by the age of one, but social constraints in the pack tend to constrain breeding until females are between two to five years old (Fox and Papouchis 2005).

Impact of Lethal Control

While there is a segment of urban and rural residents that would like to see coyotes eradicated, lethal control is not universally accepted or effective. Lethal control is not palatable for all members of the public, is not practical in urban settings, due to conflicting human values and the safety risks associated with shooting, trapping or poisoning (Gibbs 2001, Gehrt 2004), and lethal control measures (as a rule) do not meet standards of ethical treatment of animals.

Most critically, lethal control has been proven ineffective and ecologically damaging (McKinney 2002, Bekoff and Gese 2003). Coyotes provide a valuable role in keeping prey populations in check, such as rodents and geese (Chew 2005, Fox and Papouchis 2005). Moreover, coyotes will change their activity patterns, social structure and breeding behaviours when persecuted through lethal control efforts (Kitchen et al. 2000, Fox and Papouchis 2005). The table below shows that killing coyotes leads to break down of social structure of packs (i.e. with high human-caused mortality shown in column one below, the average group size declines, age of individuals and reproduction rises, and more pups survive.)

This means that when we kill coyotes in larger numbers, we actually promote more coyotes being born, and develop a population of coyotes that may lack natural instincts. When this type of population also becomes habituated to human food sources, they can lose their fear of people and become problem animals.

Source: (Fox and Popouchis)

Importantly for the City of Calgary, "even if a city were able to eliminate all its resident coyotes, transients and young coyotes dispersing from the rural or natural areas surrounding the city would find these available areas and move in to fill them" (Lukasik 2009). As long as there is available food, and humans do not change behaviour and manage garbage, or other attractants, coyotes will eventually return to the urban ecosystem. Long term co-existence is possible if citizens of Calgary learn what is needed to be responsible stewards of their urban ecosystem.

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Literature Cited

Alexander, S.M. and M.S. Quinn (in review) 2008. Perceptions Surrounding Coyote Conflict in Urban Greenspaces: Preliminary Results from a Media Content Analysis. Canadian Parks for Tomorrow. Book chapter.

Baker, R. O. and R. M. Timm. 1998. Management of conflicts between urban coyotes and humans in southern California. Vert. Pest Conf., 18:288–312.

Bekoff, M. and Gese E.M. 2003. Coyote (Canis latrans). In: Feldhamer G.A., Thompson B.C. and Chapman J.A. (eds). Wild mammals of North America: biology, management. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Bekoff. M., and M C. Wells,. 1986. Social Ecology and Behavior of Coyotes, In: Jay S. Rosenblatt, Colin Beer, Marie-Claire Busnel and Peter J.B. Slater, Editor(s), Advances in the Study of Behavior,Academic Press, Volume 16, Pages 251-338.

Carbyn, L. N. 1989. Coyote attacks on children in western North America. Wildlife Society Bulletin 17:444-446.

Carlson DA, Gese EM.2008. Reproductive biology of the coyote (Canis latrans): integration of mating behavior, reproductive hormones, and vaginal cytology. J Mamm;89:654–64.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2005. Coyote shot after 2 Calgary toddlers attacked. National News Wed, 20 Apr; also available at: http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/04/20/coyoteattacks050420.html

Chew, Ryan. 2005. Stakeout: A tale of two species. Chicago Wilderness Magazine, http://chicagowildernessmag.org/issues/fall2005/stakeout.html.

Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project. 2006. Urban Coyote Ecolgy and Management. Bulletin 929.

Crooks, K. R., AND M. E. Soule´ . 1999. Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system. Nature 400:563–566.

Fox, C.H., and C. M. Papouchis. 2005. Coyotes in our Midst: Coexisting with an Adaptable and Resilient Carnivore. Animal Protection Institute, Sacramento, CA. 64 pp.

Gese, E. M. 2001. Territorial defense by coyotes (Canis latrans) in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: Who, how, where, when, and why. Canadian Journal of Zoology 79:980-987.

Gehrt, S. D. 2004. Ecology and management of striped skunks,raccoons, and coyotes in urban landscapes. Pp. 81–104 in Predatorsand people: from conflict to conservation (N. Fascione, A. Delach,and M. Smith, eds.). Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Harrison, D.J. & Gilbert, J.R. (1985) Denning ecology and movements of coyotes in Maine during pup rearing. Journalof Mammalogy, 66, 712–719

Kitchen, A. M., E. M. Gese, and E. R. Schauster. 2000. Changes in coyote activity patterns due to reduced exposure to human persecution. Canadian Journal of Zoology 78:853-857.

Lukasik, Victoria. M. (2009) The Diet and Human-Interactions of Coyotes in Calgary, Alberta. A Master's Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the degree of Master of Science, University of Calgary. September, 2009. Department of Geography.

McKinney, Michael L. 2002. Urbanization, biodiversity, and conservation. Bioscience 52 (10):883-890.

Patterson, B. R., AND F. Messier. 2001. Social organization and space use of coyotes in eastern Canada relative to prey distribution and abundance. Journal of Mammalogy 82:463–477.

Piccolo, B.P. 2002. Behaviour and mortality of white-tailed deer neonates in suburban Chicago, Illinois. MSc. Thesis, University of Illinois, Urbana.

Scotter, G. W. and Ulrich, T. J. 1995. Mammals of the Canadian Rockies. / Fifth House, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

 

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