Friday, October 30, 2009

Coyote Attack

As if to prove that we should never feel overconfident in the presences of wild animals, today we learn that popular Canadian folk singer Taylor Mitchell was killed when two coyotes ganged up on her, took her down, and killed her.

This is a first. Coyotes have always been recognized as shy around humans. But, these are wild canines and they roam the countryside and hunt in packs, just like wolves. However, the "countryside" where coyotes roam and hunt includes small towns and even metropolitan cities. You don't have to be way out in the wilderness to encounter coyotes. They are wiley, unafraid (being shy around humans should not be misconstrued as fear - it is merely a cunning survival mechanism), and will boldly prowl residential neighborhoods and take small pets as a meal. But they've never been known to take a human before, as far as I can ascertain.

Life is not a Disney movie, and the wildlife does not enjoy a warm and fuzzy lifestyle. Wild animals face a survival situation every day of their lives. At one and the same time, they are all trying to find some other animal to eat, and avoid being eaten by someone bigger or more aggressive. You can't know what kind of pressure the animals are under from things such as seasonal food shortage, or getting ousted from their habitat by encroachments of civilization, or hormonal or disease issues that might cause unusual behavior.

So what does this mean to you? It means you shouldn't take anything for granted, when it comes to the behavior of wildlife. Keep your eyes and ears open, know what's going on around you at all times, don't take unnecessary chances, understand the realities (for instance, you can't outrun a pack of wild dogs), and have a self-defense strategy.

A very effective component of a self-defense strategy, with regard to predators both human and animal, is to not go out alone. I know that violates some peoples' sense of what the wilderness is all about — going out alone to ponder the solitude — and if that's the case, I wish you well. But if you want to increase your safety, travel in pairs or small groups. This pertains not only to wildlife-related safety, but to all issues of safety.

If you absolutely must travel alone, my suggestion is that you arm yourself with something more lethal than your soft fingernails. At least give yourself a fighting chance.


  1. this coyote attack is especially strange to me since I've lived around coyotes my whole life without any issues (in AZ) - they seem to be afraid of people

  2. You're right, Gary. Normally, coyotes are only seen at a distance, if at all, because they shun contact with humans. What happened here is anybody's guess. But the message is that, even with normally shy wildlife, you can never be sure. Heck, domestic dogs sometimes surprise owners by doing something totally uncharacteristic … like biting someone when they've never done that before. It's always a good idea to maintain situational awareness and be ready for anything.

  3. Peggy F
    I had a distant cousin killed by a pack of dogs in Ca. 6-8 years ago. So wildlife can be domestic gone bad too.

  4. Wow, Peggy, I'm sorry to hear about your cousin. But you're absolutely right. Feral dogs can be a threat to human safety, especially when they start running in packs. In fact, they might even pose a greater threat than their wild counterparts, because they descend from a domesticated background that leaves them emboldened around humans.

  5. My close friend and her husband just lost their dog (whippet, I believe) to a pack of coyotes while hiking in Tahoe on Sunday around 1pm on a sunny afternoon. I walk my small dog every morning on an open space trail close to my house where coyotes have been spotted. We can hear them howling in the summer nights. I take a combination Pepper Spray/ Tear gas with me. If a pack comes after me and my dog will this give us a chance to get away??