A decades-old mystery of a coyote attack can be solved

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In 2009, a pack of coyotes lived in Canada Cape Breton Highlands National Park killed a 19-year-old hiker in what appeared to be an unprovoked attack. It was the first coyote-related murder ever documented in Canada and only the second in North America after the death of an infant in California in 1981. More than a decade later Scientists now believe they have figured out exactly why the tragedy happened. They argue that because of their limited resources, the park’s coyotes began preying on large animals like moose, which then led them more likely to prey on humans. she ruled out other possible causes, such as the coyotes becoming more familiar with humans or their food over time.

The death of the singer-songwriter Taylor Mitchell Late October 2009 shocked many, including coyote experts. Despite public perception, coyotes are not well known aggressive towards people. EEven in urban areas shared by the two species, the animals often avoid human contact.

A team of scientists in Canada and the US has been investigating the possible circumstances behind Mitchell’s death. Their investigation included capturing nearly two dozen coyotes in the area between 2011 and 2013, allowing the team to outfit them with devices to track their movements. They also collected mustache samples from the coyotes (including the animals involved in Mitchell’s death) and fur samples from potential prey in the area, and hair samples from a local hair salon. By examining the nitrogen and carbon content of these samplesthe team was able to estimate the coyotes’ current diet, including whether they had eaten foods intended for humans.

Coyotes generally hunt or eat small prey, although they are Omnivores that can eat almost anything on occasion. But the team found that the Cape Breton coyotes primarily ate moose, with the large animal making up between half and two-thirds of their diet on average, followed by small mammals and deer. The same pattern applied to the coyotes responsible for Mitchell’s death. And unlike coyotes elsewhere, there has been little seasonal variation in their diet, suggesting this They mainly hunt moose all year round.

The switch to large prey seen in this coyote population would likely only happen out of sheer necessity, the authors argue, and it is this unique adaptation that prompted them to target Mitchell.

“We describe these animals expanding their niche to essentially rely on moose. And we also take a step forward and say that not only did they engage in looting, they actually killed moose when they could. It’s difficult for them to do that, but because they had very little or nothing else to eat, that was their prey,” said lead author Stan Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist at OSU, in a expression from the university. “And that leads to conflicts with people you don’t normally get to see.”

Gehrt and his team also gathered evidence that differed from other popular theories for the attack. The coyotes in the park had a wide range, but they still tended to be evasive Areas that intersected with human activity. They also moved more frequently at night during the seasons when people were most active during the day. And only a handful of the coyotes had recently eaten human food (including one of the coyotes involved in attacking humans)., further reducing the likelihood that these animals will spend a lot of time around us. Finally, hunting and trapping is not permitted in the park, meaning local coyotes may not fear humans as much as they typically do elsewhere.

“It’s a big area for these coyotes to live in and never have to have a negative experience with a human — if they have any experience at all,” Gehrt said. “That also leads to the logical assumption we make, which is that it’s not hard for these animals to test whether or not humans are potential prey.”

All in all, the findings released last month in the Journal of Applied Ecology, suggest what happened to Taylor Mitchell was a tragic but “fairly rare” event, according to the study authors say. The Conditions that led to their deaths are particularly unlikely to occur in locations where coyotes have plentiful food and natural prey to feast on, including urban areas shared with humans. At the same time, people visiting the park or other areas with similar environmental conditions “should be made aware of the risks coyotes pose and encouraged to take precautions,” they wrote, such as bringing a partner and animal repellents like bear spray . Park managers in these areas may also need to carefully monitor coyote behavior and be prepared to take action sooner than usual, which could include culling aggressive coyotes.

Although it has been reports there appear to have been no further deaths from coyote attacks in the park in the years since.

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