Human Food Diet Not Linked to Coyote-Human Conflict

By Joshua Rapp Learn

Coyote in the Cattails. Image Credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie, licensed by cc 2.0

The coyotes responsible for killing Canadian folk singer, Taylor Mitchell in 2009 had a low diet of human-produced food, according to surprising new research that throws conventional wisdom on its head.

“The use of human food isn’t related to the conflict,” said Stanley Gehrt at The Wildlife Society’s ongoing annual conference in Winnipeg. “The vast amounts of coyotes in Cape Breton are not using human food at all.”

Gehrt, an associate professor of wildlife at the Ohio State University and a member of The Wildlife Society, knows coyotes (Canis latrans). He’s been tracking their habits and ranges from downtown Chicago to the Cape Breton highlands in Nova Scotia.

The population and food tracking research that Gehrt and other researchers carried out revealed that the coyotes in Cape Breton were predominantly an older population, with very few pups or yearlings present among the population. Compared to the population of coyotes in Chicago where the animals have a variety of different food resources, they were also spread rather thinly across the landscape, with many extra-territorial and wide-ranging movements.

Gehrt and other researchers wanted to know if the three coyotes involved in attacking and killing Taylor Mitchell had built a diet around human food sources but through scat analysis they found just the opposite. Their diet, as well as that of many of the coyotes in Cape Breton, was relatively unvaried, consisting primarily of scavenged moose, though it’s possible they are depredating some of the animals.

Although researchers still aren’t sure of what caused the coyotes to kill Mitchell, Gehrt said the behavior was likely induced by varying ecosystem conditions in the area.

“Extreme conditions produce extreme behavior,” he said.

Joshua LearnJoshua Rapp Learn is a science writer at The Wildlife Society.

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