In 2009, a wolf unexpectedly killed a human. Scientists now know why

In 2009, folk singer Taylor Mitchell was 19 years old. A pack of wolves attacked him while he was hiking into Canada’s Cape Breton Highlands National Park. She was about to start the famous Skyline Trail when climbers in the area saw the animals approach without provocation.

Bystanders called 911 and Mitchell was flown to a Halifax hospital, but she died of her injuries 12 hours later.

This was the first documentation of a coyote attack in North America that resulted in a fatal attack on an adult human (in 1981 she was 3-year-old Kelly Kane. She was killed by a coyote on her family’s property), raising the question or coexistence with this furry mammals are no longer safe.

“We didn’t have good answers,” said Stan Gert, professor at Ohio State’s College of Environment and Natural Resources and head of the Urban Coyote Research Project. he said in a statement.

But after several years of investigating the incident, Gert finally seems to have provided some insight into the situation.

According to the paper, published last month in the Journal of Applied Ecology, he and a team of naturalists found that coyotes in Mitchell’s attack zone had adopted an unusual change in diet. Instead of relying on smaller mammals such as rodents, birds and snakes for food, they seem to hunt moose for their meals due to the harsh weather conditions forcing the former to move away.

As such, the team believes it is likely that these wolves have learned to attack large mammals, such as humans, and are therefore more likely to kill humans.

“We describe these animals as expanding their niche to primarily rely on moose. We’ll also take it a step further and say that not only were they scavengers they did, but they even killed moose when they could. It’s hard for them to do that. do, but because they have so little food, if there was anything else they ate, it was their prey,” Geert said. “And that leads to conflicts with people you wouldn’t normally see. ”

Stan Gert tagged with a captured wolf and equipped with a tracking device.

Stan Gert

Coyote forensics

Before and after the 2009 tragedy, the Gert Project also noted several dozen smaller coyote-man incidents in the park. He and his colleagues have equipped them with what are essentially GPS trackers so they can document the animals’ movements and better understand why they behave so surprisingly viciously.

“We’ve told communities and cities that the relative risk from coyotes is very low, and even if you have a conflict where someone gets bitten, it’s very small,” he said. “The death was tragic and completely off the charts. I was devastated – just devastated.”

To reach their conclusions — that coyotes in Cape Breton National Park were hunting large moose — the team first collected hair from the coyotes involved in Mitchell’s death and related to other smaller incidents between 2011 and 2013. Then she collected the fur. From a wide range of potential wolf prey such as shrews, redbacks, snowshoe hares, moose, and even humans—for humans, they collected hair from local barbershops.

Seth Newsom, professor of biology at the University of New Mexico and corresponding author of the study, performed an analysis of specific carbon and nitrogen isotopes in all samples.

Ultimately, Newsom confirmed, elk make up between half and two-thirds of the animals’ diet on average, followed by the snowshoe hare, small mammals and deer, according to the news release. In addition, the researchers analyzed coyote feces, which further confirmed the isotopic results.

A scientist wearing gloves collars a wolf lying on its side.

This is what it looks like to wear some kind of GPS collar, as done in this study.

Urban Wolf Research Project

Interestingly, they also found few examples of man-eating individuals foodrefutes any claims that coyotes’ attraction to human food may have been a factor in Mitchell’s attack.

“These wolves do what wolves do, which is when their first or second choice prey is not available, they will explore, experiment and move their search area,” Gert said. “She is flexible and that is the key to her success.”

Using this motion device, the team tested whether coyotes in the park were aware of humans. However, the patterns showed that the animals largely avoided areas of the park frequented by humans. Instead, they preferred to roam at night.

“The evidence suggests that this was a poor region with really extreme environments that forced these highly adaptable animals to expand their behavior,” Gert said. Or as the paper puts it: “Our findings indicate that unprovoked predatory attacks by coyotes on humans are likely to be very rare and associated with unique ecological features.”

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