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Coyote attack on musician Taylor Mitchell puts critters in new perspective


One of my favorite day hikes is to a series of vast meadows atop Point Mugu State Park, at the north end of the Santa Monica Mountains.

I've preferred making this uphill sojourn in late afternoon, alone, when there are few or no people on the meadow trails, because that's when coyotes emerge from their daytime slumber. If you're stealthy enough, you might get close enough for a decent photo opportunity.

But after reading about the fatal mauling by coyotes of singer Taylor Mitchell in Nova Scotia, Canada, I probably will be more leery next time I make that trip, even if the coyotes there try their best to avoid people.

The first time I encountered one of the rangy critters was on a remote side trail surrounded by tall brush. I'd seen mountain lion tracks and was spooked when a coyote bolted from the brush across the trail 30 yards in front of me. It stopped and gazed at me, and I wondered whether it had companions hiding in the brush.

To see how it'd react, I took a few steps toward the predator. To my relief, it looped swiftly to the other side of the meadow, then turned and kept an eye on me.

The Mitchell incident was bizarre and unusual, but not unbelievable, given there are so many coyotes living in proximity to people.

"Coyotes are living amongst us in areas where we live and sleep and children play in our backyards," Valerius Geist, a Canadian biologist, told the Christian Science Monitor. "There is a general avoidance that goes on between them and humans."

Robert Crabtree, who has studied coyote behavior extensively in the western United States, said in the same story: "Those coyotes in Canada must have been very habituated to humans, very likely the result of them either having been fed by people or having close associations with hikers."

The suggestion is that areas in which coyotes have grown too accustomed to or comfortable with humans are where close interactions, even very rare attacks, are more likely to occur. That does not apply to the meadow trails atop Point Mugu State Park. The coyotes there do not typically emerge until people have left the park. You have to be sneaky just to spot one, and if you do it's usually just a fleeting glimpse.

And that's perfectly fine by me.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: A curious coyote pauses in a meadow atop a trail in Point Mugu State Park. Credit: Pete Thomas / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (5)

I've interacted with several different families of coyotes over the span of 19 years in the area where I run my dogs and sometimes those of friends. My several different sets of dogs and the coyotes have chased and sometimes played with each other on a regular basis. At no time in 19 years have those coyotes ever threatened me even when the dogs were off by themselves, nor have any of the other coyotes I've ever seen in other areas. They have not ever allowed me near them, either, although in other areas of Albuquerque they have been known to wait in people's yards for treats.

I believe what must have happened here was that Taylor Mitchell stumbled on to coyotes who were eating or expecting food. That's the only situation in which I can imagine when they might be bold enough to snap at her (coyotes rarely bite at first, preferring to make quick snaps until large prey sits down). If she panicked and went down rather than yelling, defending herself or leaving, I could imagine that the coyotes might have continued to bite her. It sounds as if she was within cell phone range, which suggests that she was also in an area in which the coyotes came into regular contact with human beings, and those particular coyotes may also have been expecting her to feed them.

In general coyotes are highly reluctant to tangle with anything, even a lone dog that might defend itself, unless they're in a pack. The slightest debilitating wound usually means death by starvation to a coyote, making them extremely cautious.

I would urge people who read this article not to panic where coyotes are concerned, but likewise, for their own sakes and ours, not to feed them or tame them in any way. If you can keep your dogs and cats away from them, especially small dogs, do so. Their survival ultimately depends on caution where human beings are concerned.

Dave Klingler

What happened to Taylor is very sad. However, I hold to the theory that the coyotes who attacked her must have been very young and very desperate. Also, if no one was there to see the attack, how do they know how many coyotes there were?

Anyway, I have coyotes where we live. I watch them hunt with their young pups, training and teaching them the ways of the world in which they live. I enjoy watching them and I am not afraid of them even when they are very close. They are very shy and are not aggressive to humans that I have seen.

In my opinion, something else was going on in this situation for this thing to have happened the way it did.

Oh brother, these were very likely wolf coyote hybrids to have behaved in the aggressive manner that they did. Of course the professinals will say no way, but coyotes are not native to Nova Scotia and to get there they had to pass through miles and miles of prime wolf habitat this had to have taken years. What they have there is likely a long time hybrid since they max out at the size of a yearling or female Mexican wolf 55 pounds, Also likely a coyote wolf cross. Rather than a western coyote that usually weighs at most 35 pounds.
Ed Bangs wolf recovery coordinator for the Rocky Mountains puts it this way, you can put a wolf in a blender and a beagle in the other hit frape and both DNA samples would say canine and not much else. So unless someone cross referrences against known local wolf populations in mitochondrial DNA they will never know for sure.
Poor girl despite my feeling her ignorance contributed to her passing I truly pitty her the loss of her youth her future and the manner of her horrible death. She was just a baby and no human deserves to suffer what she did.

It's a good thing California and Canada's strict gun control prevents hikers from committing gun crime on helpless animals

that's horrific what that young woman endured.
I hope that all the people who feed and accommodate wild animals will take notice.
They don't need you half as much as much as you need them to fill your void.


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