Garreth's Wildlife Watch

Coyotes

(2013-06-04) No other wild creature in Prince Edward Island creates such a mixture of feelings, ranging from fear to fascination, than the coyote (Canis latrans). While one person may hear coyotes calling out into the night on a camping trip and be overcome with a feeling of excitement and wonder, another camper may be terrified and run inside their tent. This may be due to the view the media projects to the public about our coyote populations.

The coyote is actually quite a fresh face in the wildlife world of PEI. This species was traditionally a resident of the western plains, due to European colonization and the reduction of our Timber Wolf (Canis lupus) populations, coyotes started moving east. As they expanded their range east, there are theories (now proven with DNA testing) that they started to breed with the remaining timber wolves and therefore transformed the eastern expanding coyotes into a sub-species sometimes referred to as "coywolf." In the western provinces, coyotes are solitary creatures and are not much bigger than a red fox, however, the coyotes of PEI show undeniable pack behaviour and are quite a lot larger than foxes. Just last December the largest coyote caught in Island history weighed in at an impressive 65.4 pounds! Coyotes arrived in Prince Edward Island in the early 1980's and have successfully inhabited all regions of the Island that can provide habitat for them.

A large number of Islanders view the coyote as a threat to themselves and their family, this however is a completely unfounded attitude to take towards these interesting creatures. Since coyotes have an amazing natural ability to control their population by having large or small litter sizes, coyotes have provided many Island fur trappers with a new income. The way we have handled our coyote population has instilled a healthy fear of humans into the coyotes. There have been no reported coyote attacks on humans ever in PEI. Negative encounters with coyotes are extremely rare and are usually the case of human negligence. Coyotes will avoid humans 99% of the time, the other one percent generally arises from cases where the coyote has been being fed by humans. A sad example of misguided generosity took place quite recently in Stratford, outside a Tim Horton's drive through. Employees on the night shift were throwing "timbits" out the window to a coyote that had emerged from a nearby woodlot. Naturally the coyote returned to this area in hopes of more tasty treats. A member of the public was scared when they saw a coyote so close to the drive through and the coyote unfortunately had to be disposed of.

Hopefully events such as this can be avoided through public education. So remember, it's still safe for you and your family to hike through the woods, coyotes will avoid you at all cost and if they are around, you'll probably never even see these interesting "Phantoms of the Forest."

The University of Prince Edward Island is now asking for help collecting data on coyotes. The public is encouraged to report coyote sightings at www.upei.ca/coyote, this information will be used to analyze population and distribution of the species.


About the Author

Garreth Ashley recently graduated from the Wildlife Conservation Technology program at Holland College and is returning to University in the fall. He is a current employee and also a former Board Member of Kensington North. His blog, Wildlife Watch, is a collection of his own observations of wildlife on PEI.



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