Unprecedented coyote attacks on city residents has caused Burlington, Ont. to call in help from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), the Halton Regional Police Services (HRPS), and a certified wildlife control professional.
As of September 17, the city had reported seven coyote attacks on humans in the span of a month. “We are pulling in every resource we have with help from the Ministry to locate and eliminate the coyotes responsible for these attacks. We won’t rest until public safety is restored,” said Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward, in a statement.
Coyote sightings are common in Burlington as its abundance of green spaces and forested areas provide ideal habitats for the animals. But these are the first ever coyote attacks on humans reported in the Burlington area.
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The attacks began in mid-August. The first attack involved a coyote jumping up and biting a female adult from behind while on the Centennial Multi-use Trail. Other incidents include a two year old bitten on the back of the neck and dragged while sitting on a deck in a fenced-in backyard; an 18-year-old female bitten on the leg while lying in the grass at a public park; and a resident at a local retirement home bitten on the hip while sitting on her patio.
The attacks have all taken place within several kilometres of one another. The attacked individuals have been treated at the Joseph Brant Hospital and released without serious injuries.
After consulting with the MNRF, Burlington’s city staff said it believes the “attacks are coming from coyotes who have been conditioned to see humans as a food source. This creates an environment where wildlife is conditioned to be comfortable with direct human interaction and may come to depend on humans for food.”
Due to the localized nature of the incidents, the MNRF experts have theorized that it is a family of coyotes conducting the attacks. The aggressive behaviour towards humans is likely a learned trait passed down to the pups from the father, the city said in a statement.
“This type of aggression is learned from the parents and once it is learned, it becomes ingrained and the behaviour cannot be changed. This family of aggressive coyotes is likely roaming within a two to three square kilometre area.”
The city has managed to kill three of the coyotes, and clear out a den located on private property. It is, however, believed that there may still be more coyotes linked to the family. As a result, the certified wildlife control professional, Burlington’s animal services staff, and the HRPS have created a multi-agency taskforce whose goal is to track down the remaining coyotes.
“Residents may see this multi-agency taskforce in their neighbourhood and it is critical that residents do not interfere with these operations. Because the situation can change suddenly, it may not always be possible for residents to be notified of the operations happening in their neighbourhood. Crowds must not gather during these operations for both the safety of residents and so crowds do not scare off the coyotes being tracked,” the city said in a statement.
As a precaution, the city has started installing lids on all garbage cans. It is also distributing coyote whistles to residents. The sound created by the whistles are intended to “haze” the coyotes and reinstill fear of humans.
On top of the whistles, if an individual spots an approaching coyote, the city suggested spraying the animal with water from a hose or a water gun filled with vinegar; throwing small rocks, sticks, or other items near the coyote; using airhorns or banging pots; and waving your arms, making yourself as large as possible, and yelling loudly.
To avoid attracting coyotes, the city advised residents to close off spaces under decks, sheds, and other structures that could be used as dens; to keep pets indoors; and to not leave out attractants, such as garbage, pet food, and bird feeders.
Under Burlington’s Lot Maintenance Bylaw, residents can be fined $300 or issued a court summons for hand-feeding or ground-feeding wildlife.
“I cannot stress enough how critical it is not to feed wildlife, either intentionally or unintentionally. Feeding wild animals causes them to lose their fear of humans and that can lead to aggressive behaviour, including attacks. Once they attack a person, it’s our responsibility as a municipality to eliminate those animals because that behaviour cannot be unlearned,” said Meed Ward. “We all need to do our part to keep each other safe with the wildlife that lives among us.”
Any coyote sightings should be reported to Burlington city staff online at www.burlington.ca/coyote.
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