Experts Puzzling Over Fatal Canadian Coyote Attack On Human May Have Some Answers To Questions About The First Ever Occurrence

Never say Never is a popular phrase and it apples to this tragedy. A group of coyotes attacked a female hiker in Canada and she died of her injuries. The attack took place years ago and the studies took years to complete.

Coyotes as a rule do not attack people, this is believed to be the first ever such fatal assault, so researchers spent much time trying to understand how and why it happened.

a coyote on brown grass
Coyotes (Canis latrans) are medium sized omnivorous canids. Oce thought to be solitary, they are sometimes, perhaps increasingly, operating family groups or packs. Photo by Frans van Heerden on

19-year-old folksinger Taylor Mitchell was hiking in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Canada in 2009. The park is nearly 1,000 square miles of rugged country in Noval Scotia. Mitchell had recently released her first album. The young lady was preparing to tour in support of the collection. She was alone when she was attacked by a group of coyotes. Coyotes are usually solitary hunters so the attack was unusual in that aspect too. There were people close enough to hear her cries and she was rescued and taken to medical aid. She died of her injuries. Authorities tracked down and killed five coyotes, two of them were responsible for her death.

black deer lying on plants near green trees during daytime
Moose (Alces alces) are difficult prey for wolves to tackle. The coyotes that attacked Taylor Mitchell may have adapted themselves to cooperative hunitng to tackle large prey. Photo by Pixabay on

Academic researchers studied the attack and now about a dozen years later believe they have at last found part of the answer.

Professor Stanley Gehrt lays the blame for the attack on dietary adaptation. His paper was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Gehrt is a professor at Ohio State University and an expert on coyote behavior. He was lead author if the paper.

Gerht makes the argument that the local coyotes had adapted to scarce food. Normally, they attack and eat mice, squirrels, rabbits and similar sized animals. Those animals had become scarcer, he argues, The coyotes adapted by grouping together and attacking larger animals. He documented an increase in attacks on moose by groups of coyotes.

He theorizes that Mitchell, walking alone, appeared to be a tempting target to a group of coyotes who had become used to attacking larger prey.

green trees beside the waterfalls
Nova Scotia is a rugged portion of Eastern Canada, Photo by Saidamir Mukhitdinov on

“Coyotes in the park are not subject to hunting or trapping, so they do not have a natural aversion to people,” according to Gehrt speaking to CTV News Atlantic. “They had conditioned themselves to go after large prey, and this was something small,” he said. In the past, coyote attacks have been caused by exposure to human food, but Mitchell was not one of those victims. According to the study, none of the five coyotes killed after the deadly attack, including the two responsible, showed any signs that they had eaten human food before.

Gehrt said he believes the situation was unusual and not a sign of increased danger from coyotes. He believes the pack behavior was temporary. He advocates hikers using caution and understanding that there is always some risk.

close up of rabbit on field
Rabbits (family Laporidae) are more common coyote prey. by Pixabay on

Coyotes have become an urban fixture in much of thge United States. Locally, they have been under long term study at Cal State Long Beach. Dr. Ted Stankowich has been studying the human coyote interface for several years. He says local coyotes are getting bolder and he has documented more of a pack behavior than previously thought. He believes they are naturally fearful of humans and basic steps can minimize the risk posed by encounters.

The steps he advocates include:

  • Clearing yards clear of dense vegetation, where coyotes can make a den or find fallen fruits or vegetables.
  • Keeping trash off the ground and in sealed trash cans.
  • Not leaving pet food outside.
  • Keeping pets inside – especially at night (still the coyote’s choice time for hunting) – and dogs leashed during walks (again, especially at night)

We have reported on the growing coyote presence. Aggressive coyotes have been a problem across the country. the Nationally, as people create more urban sprawl, interactions with humans and wild animals increase. It is not a problem limited to the Unites States as Japanese experience shows.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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