Neighbour’s cats are disappearing”

Coyotes are again in the news here in Prince Edward Island, with the CBC reporting ‘I could have lost my daughter’: Pack of coyotes stalks girl in P.E.I.

The 2001 report of the Environmental Advisory Council, Coyote Management in Prince Edward Island, is a helpful document for putting coyotes in context.

Coyotes are not native to the province; they arrived on the ice in the early 1980s:

Originally an animal of the Western Great Plains, the coyote began extending its range following European settlement of that region during the late 19th century. The extirpation or reduction of timber wolves coupled with land settlement and clearing apparently facilitated its range expansion. Coyotes arrived in New Brunswick in the 1960s, Nova Scotia in the 1970s, Prince Edward Island in 1983, Newfoundland in 1987 and the Magdalen Islands in 2001 and occur in all jurisdictions in Canada, the United States and much of Central America. They are capable of lengthy treks across ice and have been observed and photographed on ice flows far from land in the Northumberland Strait and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The first coyote recovered in Prince Edward Island was snared near Souris in November 1983, although previous sightings of coyotes had been reported.

Following their arrival, the coyote population increased rapidly, particularly during the late 1980s and early 1990s, almost doubling annually, a pattern similar to that observed in other jurisdictions. They dispersed to all available habitat and by 1998 the population showed signs of reaching peak numbers according to harvest records collected by the Fish and Wildlife Division. Similarly, coyote populations in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia reportedly showed signs of leveling off approximately 15 years after the first specimens were recovered. Coyotes currently occupy habitat throughout the Island.

As with attempts to eradicate cats in (the other) Prince Edward Islands, attempts by humans to eradicate coyotes elsewhere have proved costly and unsatisfying:

There is no practical way of preventing the natural increase in coyotes. History has shown that poisoning, trapping, shooting from snowmobiles and aircraft, hunting with hounds, and bounty incentives, have consistently failed to reduce their numbers. Nova Scotia’s experience with a $50 bounty during the 1980s emphasizes the futility of coyote control. In spite of the bounty, the coyote population continued to expand at the same rate in Nova Scotia as it had in New Brunswick where there had been no bounty, practically doubling every year. The total cost of bounties paid for coyotes went from $2,250 to $22,100 in four years before Nova Scotia eliminated its bounty.

Since most coyotes are not problem animals, it makes sense to direct efforts at controlling those coyotes that prey on livestock or, even better, preventing the problems from occurring in the first place. A program aimed at reducing the whole coyote population might actually increase livestock predation by stimulating females to have larger litters. This, in turn, would increase the demand for food by these animals during spring and summer, at a time when livestock are most vulnerable (Sabean, 1989).

In other words, coyotes are here to stay, and there’s not much we can do other than learn to share the Island with them; the recommendations of the Environmental Advisory Council echoed this, emphasizing, in its 12 recommendations, adaptations and monitoring over eradication.

That report, by the way, is a model of clarity: it provides context, solid research, and well-worded recommendations. All such efforts should turn to it as a template for how to conduct their work.

My favourite part of the report, by the way, is the summary of the telephone calls that came in to the “Nuisance Wildlife Hotline Response” that were coyote-related, a list that includes:

  • Date: 07/25
  • Nature: Around dwelling
  • Description: Neighbour’s cats are disappearing
  • Location: York
  • Action Requested: What can we do?

In addition to its diagnostic utility, this report could also be optioned as the basis for the next hit Netflix miniseries.