Why are coyotes getting more aggressive? Toronto Police send alert about violent animals after scare

A Coyote wandering around in the city, close to Oakbank Pond in City of Vaughn, Thornhill, Ontario, Canada (Seyedomid Mostafavi via Getty Images)

Toronto police are taking to Twitter to warn people about aggressive coyotes, the latest city to do so.

Toronto Police posted a Tweet about two aggressive coyotes who tried to attack a person earlier this week in the Guildwood Parkway and Livingston Road area.

There were no injuries and Toronto Animal Services were notified. A man identified as Mike told Global News that around 10:45 a.m, he spotted the animals who then leapt at him, bared their teeth and let out a low growl. He told the outlet he threw a lunch bag at the pair, which he said were a male and female, but it wasn’t enough. The animals approached him twice more before leaving. He said the incident left him feeling nervous.

Why are coyotes getting more aggressive?

There have been several reports in recent months involving unprovoked coyote attacks on humans in the country. In September, there was a spate of attacks on people in Burlington, Ont., ranging from toddlers to seniors. The incidents led to a cull of three of the animals, and a notice from the city to be on alert for the animals.

The issue of aggressive coyotes can be traced to human's habit of feeding them.

Last summer, there were dozens of reports of encounters with coyotes nipping and biting visitors to Vancouver’s Stanley Park last summer. These incidents were the result of conditioning the animals experienced after being fed by many visitors. City officials have since enforced new protocols at the park, such as wildlife feeding bylaw, new garbage cans and aversion conditioning patrols. They’ve also erected signs that warn visitors not to feed animals, or else they’ll be ticketed with a $500 fine.

“Coyotes are just doing what they’ve essentially been trained to do,” says Lesley Sampson, founding executive director of Coyote Watch Canada, “If coyotes are close to a person that’s fed them a food reward, they’re going to approach people more readily.”

During pup season between the spring and late fall, coyotes may exhibit behaviour like escorting and shadowing humans if they are in areas that are close to their dens.

“There’s going to be den guarding, rendezvous site guarding, all of those things might play a factor in terms of how a coyote might respond to a perceived frightful or dangerous situation, which would be a dog off-leash or someone intruding on a den location,” says Sampson.

Coyotes are both predators and prey

Wildlife researchers describe coyotes as “fascinating” because they are both predator and prey. In native habitats, coyotes are prey for wolves and bears but they also prey on smaller animals like rabbits, gophers, marmots and birds, along with vegetation.

Lee Foote, professor emeritus of conservation biology with the University of Alberta, says once coyotes inhabit an environment like a cityscape, they’re very opportunistic. They do something called habituation, where they get accustomed to traffic, humans, domestic animals like cats and dogs, and even airplanes.

“They’ve existed and evolved with a very adaptable and flexible schedule,” Foote tells Yahoo Canada News. “They exist in the margins of various worlds.”

He explains that coyotes can assess through very quick learning what’s a threat and what’s benign. And they’ll push a little further if there’s an opportunity for food there.

“They’ll eat almost anything they can get in their mouth safely,” he says. “They are cowards. They’ll run from the threat of humans, or anything noisy. But once they’re habituated to humans, they’re not really afraid of them because we don’t really harm them that much.”

How to avoid coyotes

There are steps you can take to avoid encounters with coyotes.

If you live in a house, be sure to look for holes, unsecured decks, buildings that are in disrepair, like sheds, which have space underneath where coyotes can den. Make sure those are sealed up.

If you come face-to-face with a coyote, it’s important not to act welcoming. Act large, be aggressive, take a couple rapid, stomping steps towards them and shout in a low voice. If you can, throw things that aren’t edible, like rocks or sticks. If you back away, don’t turn your back on them.

“Do everything you can to not be a rabbit,” says Foote. “Be as much as a grizzly bear as you can and not a rabbit.”

Additional pointers if confronted by a coyote:

  • Stop and pick up small children and pets

  • Shout loudly and wave your arms high in the air

  • Back away slowly while remaining calm

  • Never run or turn your back on a coyote