It's not just that coyotes seem bolder, they really are becoming more brazen when it comes to contact with humans.
And with boldness comes aggression
"Coyotes live in family groups and their learning is social learning, which leads to multi-generational behaviour," Derek Quann, Parks Canada's resource conservation manager at Cape Breton Highlands National Park, said Thursday. "Coyotes are now being raised as pups not to fear people."

That fact alone is enough to raise the hackles of park visitors, woodsmen, fishermen and hikers. And the problem is not just in the national park systerm. Over the past few years, people throughout Nova Scotia have increasingly reported encounters with coyotes. Some have been terrifying, some resulted in bites, others in very serious injury.

But it was the brutal death of a visitor to Cape Breton Highlands National Park that really hit home for Parks Canada. Taylor Luciow, 19, a folksinger from Toronto, was attacked by two coyotes in October 2099 while hiking the Skyline Trail. She died later after being airlifted to a Halifax hospital.
"There weren't many incidents prior to 2009 but we saw an increase in aggressiveness and we have less tolerance after this death," Quann said. "Our threshold has changed.

Coyote in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

"If a coyote is identified as aggressive, we go in and investigate and if it's a problem, it will be destroyed. "Coyotes should never approach people and for the safety of our visitors, we just have no tolerance."

Nonetheless, Quann said it's believed the intelligent canid can be reconditioned to fear humans.
Biologists and animal behaviourists from Acadia, Memorial and Dalhousie universities are working with Parks Canada to help find solutions."We're in the third year of a four-year management program to use science to examine the relationship between coyotes and humans and reduce conflict between the two species," Quann explained.

In the short term, scientists looked at how humans could change their behaviour.Among the changes are efforts to discourage the feeding of coyotes "either directly or indirectly, because this will lead to boldness and aggression in the animal," he said. Work is also ongoing with educational programs that teach people how to act when they see a coyote.

"Then we looked at what there is about coyotes we can focus on to change their behaviour, to instill a fear of people," Quann said. "For about a year now, we've been collaring coyotes and we've found out many things about these family-oriented, territorial canids."Right now there are about 10 coyotes with GPS collars and scientists can study where they go and how close they come to humans.
"We studied the flight distances, how close would they come to humans before fleeing so that we have information that is data rich and science-based," he said.

"There's too much risk in trying to correct an aggressive animal and not every animal is retrainable, but if we can get to the animals on the verge or the younger ones, we would have more success."
Experts suggest there are close to 100 coyotes in the national park.

A psychologist who is also an animal behaviourist has been working to understand the pathways to getting under the coyotes skin, so to speak."The concept is multi-modal overstimulation, including smell, hearing, touch," Quann said. "Touch is important because coyotes don't like to be handled."
Next year, the effort to retrain coyotes will begin in earnest.

"If we can capture the animals and teach the older ones to fear people then they will pass on that fear to the younger ones," he explained."You take a wild animal and they don't like to be touched or loud noises. The overstimulation may make them fear humans.

"Coyotes are extremely adaptable and they learn quickly."As an example of how quickly the inquisitive, intelligent animals are, he pointed out that they are difficult to trap "and if you trap them once, good luck trapping them again."

As for complete eradication of coyotes, Quann wonders why that would even be considered.
"They should coexist peacefully with us," he said. "They should be present but elusive, leave their droppings, paw prints, perhaps scratches on a tree, and we should be able to hear them yelp and howl in the distance while we sit around the campfire."