Burlington residents shocked and nervous after coyote attacks

Dotted with blue Muskoka chairs, shaded by spindly trees, and perched atop a grassy hill overlooking Lake Ontario, one might call the municipal gazebo at the end of Market Street in Burlington a slacker’s paradise.

“You can’t beat the view,” says Jim McIntyre, looking down at the sparkling water below. “We come here often because it’s so quiet and nice.”

Quiet, picturesque, and apparently home to the occasional coyote.

Last week, an 18-year-old woman was lying on the grass at the lookout when a coyote pulled her hair and scratched and bit her leg, the city of Burlington said in an Aug. 24 news release. She was sent to the hospital with minor injuries and later released.

That comes as a surprise to McIntyre, who visited the site on Monday with his wife, Slavica, to enjoy some time off from work.

“Here? Really?” Slavica said.

“I’ve never seen one here before, and we live just around the corner,” McIntyre added.

But coyotes are not only seen more in Burlington, they are preying on humans at an unprecedented rate.

Five people, including a young child, have been attacked by coyotes in Burlington in recent weeks. All were taken to hospital and treated for various injuries.

“These are the first human attacks in this municipality,” spokeswoman Carla Marshall said in an email, noting that unprovoked local attacks are not characteristic of the wild animal.

The sudden increase in attacks has left residents uneasy, particularly because of where they happened: suburban streets, downtown parks, trails, even a fenced-in backyard.

The city said it recently put down a coyote it believed was responsible for at least three of the attacks.
The city said it recently put down a coyote it believed was responsible for at least three of the attacks.Torstar Stock Photo

“My family moved here four years ago and we would never see them. However, at one point this summer, I saw a coyote jogging down the street every day,” said Daniel Dhakal, walking his Rottweiler down Henderson Road. “Coyotes aren’t supposed to attack things that are bigger than them, but they seem to be getting braver, so be concerned.”

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In response to community concerns, the city implemented a set of urgent measures to help “temper” the coyote craze, including offering residents free “coyote whistles” to scare the animals and reinstate their fear to the humans. Other efforts include animal services euthanizing a coyote it believed was responsible for at least three of the attacks, as well as locating where the animal lived: a den inside a sprawling construction development next to Appleby United Church.

“The property was in disrepair with a variety of downed trees and long grass and weeds without maintenance and is being brought into compliance,” Marshall said.

But questions still remain.

For one thing, the den where the responsible coyote lived was at least a six to eight minute drive from where the group of attacks occurred in south Burlington. Are the other dens around and other coyotes responsible?

It’s possible, Marshall said, noting that the city has received many tips and calls about other potential locations.

“Animal services staff, along with a certified wildlife professional, will evaluate all potential locations to determine the appropriate actions for each den.”

Another question is the reason behind the sudden presence of coyotes in Burlington neighborhoods and their unusual propensity to attack.

“I’m sure coyotes have always been around, but I’ve lived here 50 years and I’ve never seen them on the streets,” Wayne Ingelli said.

Lesley Sampson, executive director of the advocacy group Coyote Watch Canada, said coyotes aren’t conditioned to interact with humans unless they have an incentive to do so. Generally speaking, she said coyotes are more likely to attack and approach if they think a human has food.

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“A neighbor can leave a bag of meat for a coyote and not be attacked, but what happens is the coyote becomes conditioned to think that humans have food,” Sampson said in an interview. “If you go back to that neighbor and he doesn’t find food, he’ll go next door and keep looking, and an attack can happen.”

While the city said none of the five victims fed coyotes before they were attacked, Sampson thinks it’s possible others in the community did; otherwise they wouldn’t keep coming back.

“Giving them food or leaving food out breaks their natural instinct to stay away for us,” he said. “I think this should be a wake-up call to everyone in the community to stop feeding, because people can get hurt.”