Reliance on moose as prey led to rare coyote attack on human

Wildlife researchers have completed a study that may settle the question of why, in October 2009, a group of coyotes launched an unprovoked fatal attack on a young woman who was hiking in a Canadian park.

By analyzing coyote diets and their movement in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, where the attack occurred on a popular trail, the researchers concluded that the coyotes were forced to rely on moose instead of smaller mammals for the bulk of their diet – and as a result of adapting to that unusually large food source, perceived a lone hiker as potential prey. 

The findings essentially ruled out the possibility that overexposure to people or attraction to human food could have been a factor in the attack – instead, heavy snowfall, high winds and extreme temperatures created conditions inhospitable to the small mammals that would normally make up most of their diet. 

“The lines of evidence suggest that this was a resource-poor area with really extreme environments that forced these very adaptable animals to expand their behavior,” said lead author Stan Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist at The Ohio State University. 

“We’re describing these animals expanding their niche to basically rely on moose. And we’re also taking a step forward and saying it’s not just scavenging that they were doing, but they were actually killing moose when they could. It’s hard for them to do that, but because they had very little if anything else to eat, that was their prey,” he said. “And that leads to conflicts with people that you wouldn’t normally see.” 

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Good article with sufficient relevant detail. The attack was rare and generally coyotes do not pose a danger to humans. ABN

Study here: Severe environmental conditions create severe conflicts: A novel ecological pathway to extreme coyote attacks on humans

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