Recently, I’ve noticed people negatively focused on the eastern coyote (aka coywolf). Even the name ‘coywolf’ is said with negative and almost accusatory tones. Ontario is even waging a unsubstantiated war against wolves and coywolves in the north. They gain a bad reputation for daring to exist in cities and close to homes. Like with any predatory species, there are people who are fearful and bent on getting rid of them.
A walk on a beautiful winter’s day in Altona Forest may yield the opportunity to see some tracks and see how their meandering paths have them explore the woods in search of food. If you live on the forest edges, you might glimpse them near the fences of Altona Forest as they hunt mice and squirrels that congregate near backyard bird feeders.
Coyote presence in this region began hundreds of years ago with the mass slaughter of eastern wolves all through their natural range of southern Ontario. As settlers arrived, the killing and poisoning began and continued until the wolf population was decimated. Their habitat was lost to the felling of the forests to accommodate towns, mills, and farms. It was local-extinction. Very few wolves are left anywhere in southern Ontario – a few exist in Algonquin Park and the surrounding areas.
With so few left, they began to breed with western coyotes who moved into the area vacated by the wolves. This is genetically possible because the two species are not so differentiated to be incompatible, but it was previously impossible because wolves and coyotes were natural enemies competing for the same foods sources and spaces. Each had adaptations that helped them secure their ranges in North America. In an undisturbed ecosystem, wolves killed coyotes who moved into their range. The massive influx of settlers and the mass wolf slaughter changed this natural pattern and dynamic.
The eastern coyote or ‘coywolf’ is the result of eastern wolves struggling to survive in the face of unending killing and genetic isolation. It’s nature rebalancing itself. The studies done on coyote scat found in Altona Forest show individual animals have varying levels of wolf in their DNA. This is, after all, a hybrid born directly of man’s intervention into an ecosystem – and this resulting species is amazingly adept at survival amidst man’s concrete forests and suburban spread. They have to be adaptable – they have almost no habitat left. Most habitat is compromised or in too-small isolated pockets. However, nature abhors a vacuum and this species takes the place of eastern wolves, bears, and cougars who roamed these woods before the ‘European invasion’.
Eastern coyotes are here and living among our suburbs – and they have a polarizing effect on neighbours. Some people want mass killings on the scale used with wolves when these areas were settled. They feel that these animals are threats to their pets – and in a few instances and situations it is justified when some individual animals become nuisances. This happens through people feeding them, running at them or allowing off-leash animals to run at them, or giving easy access to human food (such as garbage). Coyotes also cannot differentiate between possums, squirrels, rodents, cats and small dogs left alone outside – they are all food sources to them. That is natural in an ecosystem and it’s unreasonable and unfair to expect otherwise.
Other people point to the fact that there are vastly more attacks by uncontrolled dogs than there are by coyotes. The research numbers confirm this. Other than a couple of high-profile, very unusual cases from distant areas, there have been no coyote attacks on man. The coyotes are shy and naturally stay away from people. They are curious and may look from a distance, but only habituated animals will come near. They have even changed from diurnal to mostly nocturnal hunting and foraging to avoid us. They live unseen in many areas and rarely cause problems. In fact, they keep rodent populations in check. Even as a ‘new species’, they were here before us in the Altona Forest area and deserve some habitat and the right to live.
Are they just trying to survive and unfairly vilified?
The Rouge-Duffins wildlife corridor (aka Pickering’s hydro corridor lands) allow them to travel back and forth from the Rouge National Park. Unfortunately the development of this area did not include thinking of the wildlife… and all species have to cross dangerously busy Altona Road or Finch Avenue in order to connect from one green space to another.
We can be thinking people and learn to share our spaces with wildlife – making room for the many species needed for healthy ecosystems. We have the capacity to see the beauty in these creatures we have marginalized. Our own lives will be richer for it!
Who’s afraid of the big bad ‘coywolf’? Not me.
Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) had some great pages about living in harmony with wildlife (including pages on coyotes). These pages have been removed from their website but consider checking out Coyote Watch Canada. Here are some tips for living with/near coyotes:
- Stoop, scoop, and carry out dog poop. It’s not only the law and protects your dog from harmful canine diseases transmitted this way, but dog scat draws coyotes. They are curious about other canines like all ‘dog species’ – and dog poop will draw them to trails and dog-use areas.
- Wear a whistle or clap loudly if you see a coyote who is curious about you. If you walk your dog at night or at dusk, carry a flashlight and shine it in their eyes if you see them. They are naturally shy, but with us encroaching on their last refuges, the points of contact are increasing.
- Don’t feed coyotes or leave food on the trails (even wrappers). Just imagine how delicious that smells to a hungry, wild animal. Exposure to human or pet foods is how habituation begins. Coyotes (like dog species) are omnivores – they will eat rodents, possums and raccoons – if they can catch one, carrion, vegetables, fruits and berries. They have keen smell and can be drawn to food sources from a full kilometer away – and yes – they will hunt at forest edges near bird-feeders since these draw mice, rats, voles, squirrels etc.
- I’m taking for granted that you’ll have your dog on-leash – it’s the law and it would be very foolish to risk a pet chasing wildlife (animals naturally defend themselves, of course!) or wildlife spooking them so they run into the forest and get lost or hurt.
Resources ~ Begin Your Reading Here
Origins of the Coywolf – The Nature of Things (full documentary)
Never Cry Coywolf ~ © 2016 Natasha G