Why feeding coyotes and other wild animals is a ‘disservice’ to them
Aug. 5, 2021
“Attacking,” “stalking,” “aggressive.”
These are some of the words that stand out to Nathalie Karvonen whenever there are news reports about coyote incidents.
This kind of language, Karvonen said, makes a “big, bad wolf” out of coyotes and doesn’t address how people play a role in how they behave in the city -- and one of the things people do is feed coyotes too often.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t just enjoy them for the beautiful native wild animals that they are,” Karvonen said.
Karvonen is the executive director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, which recently published a news release explaining the role human behaviour plays in how coyotes act in the city.
“Feeding of coyotes alters their behaviour, typically resulting in animals who are less afraid of people and bolder around them,” the release stated.
What prompted the statement was a Yorkshire Terrier mix getting hospitalized after defending her 10-year-old owner from a coyote in Scarborough. Karvonen found the dog’s injuries tragic, but the incident wasn’t anything new; coyotes tend to attack pets because they can’t tell them apart from small prey like rabbits or groundhogs, Karvonen said.
“If the coyote actually wanted to eat that little Yorkshire Terrier, he would have -- he’s a skilled predator and that was a tiny little dog,” Karvonen said. “I’m not sure what that interaction was about, but it wasn’t about him wanting to eat the dog.”
One of the reasons why coyote encounters are more likely in the city is because people tend to feed them and other wild animals. Karvonen isn’t sure why people do this; she says that during international conferences, other wildlife experts from around the world pose similar questions (for example, someone from South Africa would ask: “Why are people feeding penguins bread and milk?”).
Karvonen understands that most people who throw a treat or two at a coyote have good intentions, but it’s one of the main reasons why coyotes are getting more comfortable approaching people.
“They really might be doing (coyotes) a disservice by teaching them to behave differently because of food,” Karvonen said, adding that this kind of behaviour could end up harming coyotes rather than benefiting them.
If coyotes are approaching humans (and their pets) more often, it could make people feel unsafe to the point of setting up traps meant to injure or kill the animals.
The biggest misconception that people have about coyotes is that they’re terrified of people. This is not always the case -- coyotes will keep their distance so long as they don’t associate humans with food.Karvonent pointed out that coyotes don’t need our help staying nourished, especially this time of year when prey like meadow voles breed rapidly and are more abundant, noting there might be a small exception during winter when smaller animals are hibernating and more difficult to hunt, “but still, a coyote should be able to manage just fine.”