In 2009, a coyote unexpectedly killed a man. Scientists now know why

In 2009, a coyote unexpectedly killed a man.  Scientists now know why
Written by admin

In 2009, it was 19-year-old folk singer Taylor Mitchell was attacked by a pack of coyotes while walking Cape Breton Highlands National Park In Canada. He was about to start the famous Skyline Trail when hikers in the area saw the animals unprovoked nearby.

Bystanders called 911 and Mitchell was airlifted to a hospital in Halifax, but he died of his injuries 12 hours later.

This marked the first documented case of a coyote attack in North America adult human death (In 1981, at the age of 3 Kelly Keane killed by a coyote on his family’s property), has raised questions about whether it is any longer safe to live with these furry mammals.

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

But after years of researching the incident, Gehrt seems to have finally offered some insight into the situation.

According to the paper It was published last month in the Journal of Applied Ecology, he and a crew of wildlife researchers discovered that coyotes in the area of ​​Mitchell’s attack were adopting an unusual dietary shift. Instead of relying on small mammals such as rodents, birds and snakes for food, they hunt moose for food due to the extreme climate.

So the team believes that these coyotes have learned to attack larger mammals like humans and are therefore more likely to kill humans.

“We describe that these animals expanded their nests to rely primarily on moose. And we go a step further and say that not only were they scavenging, but they were actually killing moose whenever they could. It’s hard for them to do that, but it was their prey because they had very little to eat,” Gehrt said. “And that leads to conflicts with people you don’t normally see.”

Gehrt stops and grabs a coyote's mouth.  The animal looks quite elegant.

Stan Gehrt tags a captured coyote and is fitted with a tracking device.

Stan Gert

Coyote forensics

Before and after the 2009 tragedy, Gehrt’s project also noted several less severe human-coyote incidents in the park. He and his colleagues even fitted them with GPS trackers so they could document the animals’ movements and better understand why they behaved in such surprisingly wild ways.

“We’ve been telling communities and cities that the relative risk posed by coyotes is pretty low, and even if there’s a conflict where a person gets bitten, it’s pretty small,” he said. “The death was tragic and completely off the charts. I was shocked by it – just completely shocked.”

To conclude 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 associated with other smaller incidents between 2011 and 2013. Then they collected fur. From potential coyote predators such as voles, southern red voles, snowshoe hares, moose, 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, analyzed specific carbon and nitrogen isotopes within all samples.

Finally, Newsome confirmed that, on average, between half and two-thirds of an animal’s diet comes from moose, followed by snowshoe hare, small mammals and deer. In addition, the researchers analyzed coyote droppings, which further confirmed the isotope findings.

A gloved researcher collars a coyote lying on its side.

This is what wearing one of the GPS collar types like in this study looks like.

Urban Coyote Research Project

Interestingly, they found only a few examples of cannibals fooddenied any suggestion that coyotes’ attraction to human food may have been a factor in Mitchell’s attack.

“These coyotes do what coyotes do, which is when they don’t have a first or second prey choice, they’ll explore and test and change their search range,” Gert said. “They’re adaptable, and that’s the key to their success.”

From these locomotion devices, the team tested coyotes in the park to see if they were familiar with humans. However, samples showed that animals mostly avoided park areas frequented by humans. Instead, they preferred to walk at night.

“The lines of evidence show that this was a resource-poor area with a really extreme environment that forced highly adaptable animals to expand their behaviors,” Gehrt said. Or, as the paper puts it, “our results suggest that extreme unprovoked predation attacks on humans by coyotes are extremely rare and are associated with unique ecological features.”

About the author


Leave a Comment