By RYAN KING
CAPE RAY – On Friday, Sept. 17, Christopher Osmond, age 16, from Cape Ray got more than he bargained for when he set out on a bike ride down to Port aux Basques. At around 11:45 a.m. he was travelling along the Park Road trail when he came across a pack of coyotes.
“Well, there was three of them, but they all looked the same. Just brown, but have a little gray, like they were older. When I first saw them, they were running out onto the dirt road and when they first jumped out, they just stopped in a ‘V’ like ducks, but they looked very angry and aggressive. They had their mouths open and looked like they just wanted to kill,” said Osmond.
Thinking quickly, Osmond went into action and made himself look bigger to scare off the pack of predators, though unfortunately that did not work, so he made his escape.
“By the time they got out in the road my first thought was act bigger. So I literally picked my bike up and put it up over my head, and I made a couple jumps, but by the time I made my last jump they must have got set off by something, because all three of them at the same time started running at me, and like full force running at me. So all I could do was throw my bike back on the ground and just took off on bike as fast as I could. I didn’t stop pedalling until I brought up into my bridge, but I know they never ran past the first house on the road because I looked back just before I went down over the hill and I saw them turning around and run off,” said Osmond.
Osmond is an avid mountain biker and has been biking for most of his life. He said that this was not his first encounter with coyotes, though his previous experience did not compare to this one.
“Not on that trail before. It was a first for the Park Road, but I had one encounter up the Valley on bike, but it was only one,” recalled Osmond. “It was totally different. The one I saw up the Valley was kind of scared to come around me, but this time they had to be mad or something.”
Craig Renouf, Media Relations Manager with the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture, offered some insight into the province’s coyote population.
He explained that the coyote is historically a western plains animal, but over the past century they have successfully colonized every Canadian province, territory, and all of the American states.
“The first coyote presence on the Island was confirmed in 1987 with the discovery of a pup killed on a roadway near Deer Lake. Reports of coyotes on ice flows off the Port au Port Peninsula were recorded as far back as 1985. Coyotes were confirmed to be fully distributed across the Island by the mid 1990s,” shared Renouf via e-mail.
During the 2020 to 2021 hunting and trapping seasons, 687 coyotes on the island were harvested by hunters. The province pays hunters and trappers $25 per carcass. From these carcasses, biological data can be gathered for research purposes.
“On the Island, coyotes have a home range of approximately 260 square kilometers, with females having slightly smaller ranges than males. The average weight of a coyote is 34 pounds for males and 29 pounds for females,” stated Renouf.
Renouf also noted that there is currently no population estimate for coyotes on the island. However, the density of their population is known to be much lower than in other provinces due to their large home ranges on the island. Because of that larger range, encounters with coyotes aren’t all that common.
“Human/coyote encounters, including being chased by a coyote, are rare. Reports of a coyote chasing a person is not consistent with typical behaviour. There is no evidence to suggest that this encounter is anything further than an isolated incident. The Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture is not aware of any other reports of aggressive coyote behavior in the Cape Ray/Port aux Basques area.”
Wild animal behaviour can always be unpredictable, and that can pose a threat to people and pets. For this reason, caution is advised whenever people venture into the wilderness.
“The public is always encouraged to be alert when travelling in wilderness areas, and to be aware of signs of the presence of wild animals such as tracks and markings. Making regular noise (talk, shout or whistle) will help avoid surprising a wild animal. Roaming dogs have been known to provoke attacks with coyotes. It is recommended to keep dogs leashed,” shared Renouf.
Coyotes can and do exist close to rural communities. Small pets can attract coyotes to residential areas, so pet owners should keep their pets leashed and monitor their activities, especially in areas where coyotes have been spotted.
The danger posed by coyotes near human habitats only increases as they become used to people.
“Losing fear of people most often happens as a result of being fed directly or indirectly by discarded pet food, household garbage, fruit trees, and bird seed. Once an animal becomes habituated, behaviour becomes even less predictable as compared to wild animals that generally maintain a flight response to people,” said Renouf.
The department of Fisheries, Forestry, and Agriculture remains unaware of any injury inflicted to people by a coyote in this province. But if someone should encounter a coyote, there are actions they can take to stay safe:
–Remain calm. Never turn your back and run from coyotes.
–Do not approach or challenge a coyote.
–Ensure the animal has an escape route; do not block logical escape routes.
–If the coyote appears aggressive, make yourself appear large by raising and waving your arms, shout and make noise, keep eye contact with the animal while you assess the situation to determine your own escape route.
–If possible, obtain a defense aid such as a rock or stick as you continuously try to back away.
–If a coyote does attack, fight it with what means you have available.
More information on coyotes can be found on the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture website at: https://www.gov.nl.ca/ffa/wildlife/all-species/coyotes/.