What drove coyotes to kill a hiker in a Canadian park?

One of 24 coyotes caught in Cape Breton Highlands National Park that researchers equipped with a GPS collar to track its space use. Credit: Stan Gehrt

When a 19-year-old woman was killed by coyotes in a Canadian park in 2009, she became the only known death in North America. What caused coyotes to behave so uncharacteristically? In a to study published in the Journal of Applied Ecologyresearchers believe they have an answer.

After analyzing coyote diets and movements in Cape Breton Highlands National Parkwhere the attack occurred, the researchers concluded that the coyotes (Canis latrans) were increasingly forced to rely on moose (Alces, Alces) for their diet. Accustomed to foraging for larger animals, they saw a lone hiker as potential prey.

The researchers found that a mix of heavy snow, high winds and extreme temperatures had created conditions that were inhospitable to the small mammals that the coyotes usually depended on. To survive, they turned to moose, tearing and hunting them themselves – a challenge for the small dogs. “But because they had very little or anything else to eat, that was their prey,” said lead author Stan Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist at Ohio State University. “And that leads to conflicts with people you don’t normally see.”

Their findings suggest that overexposure to humans or human food were not factors in the attack.

Read more from OSU here.

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