Does Habituation Mean Eventual Aggression?

Most of us are thrilled to have coyotes return to our city parks, and we want to protect them in this environment that they have chosen.  Protecting them entails respecting their needs: especially, keeping them wild by absolutely never feeding them, and keeping our dogs from pursuing them — this being their primary irritant in the parks: both of these could lead to future problems. But also we need to allow them to live peacefully, so that they feel comfortable enough to stay. Our parks are one of the safest places for them to live — they will not find a safer place if they are harassed into moving on.

However, a few individuals in one park have taken it upon themselves to create fear in the coyotes by pursuing them with rocks or sticks — even when the coyotes are far away from these people. These same individuals have also been accosting those they’ve seen within a certain distance of the coyotes. Their reasoning is that they had heard that habituation leads to aggression.

We know that in urban parks, coyotes will get accustomed to people — it is the nature of the situation. I wrote to one of our renowned coyote behavior experts regarding coyote habituation and where it might lead. I asked this professor if habituation meant eventual aggression? How close is “too close”?  I have copied his responses here, in their entirety. I have not including his name since I did not ask his permission to do so, but maybe I will. His responses are in brown, which follow my questions:

*Is visibility the same as habituation? Not necessarily – there are individual differences that must be taken into account …

*Does habituation mean aggression? Not at all

*What is too close?  Depends on the individual coyote, time of year etc etc … I don’t see any measure being generalized to all coyotes … we need to remember that speaking about ‘the’ coyote is misleading because of individual differences …

*Will a coyote’s defensiveness against dogs lead to aggression? Depends on the coyote. . but defensiveness can be a factor among a number of different species….

*Is it okay to throw rocks at or around coyotes to create fear? Can’t answer this but hazing can work … I’m just not sure about throwing rocks … on the other hand it could make them mad and then there could be a problem

*How to encourage keeping dogs leashed around coyotes? Enforce penalties for not doing so .. enforcement is key …

*The idea of stress on the coyotes making them nervous? Depends on the individual .. there will be difference in tolerance for sure …

*I also have read that habituation is not what leads to aggression, that few coyotes ever become aggressive. Instead, the positive correlation, I’ve read, is between artificial feeding and aggression? Typically feeding can lead to aggression habituation … feeding is simply a no no and must never be done … it’s the root of all ‘problems’ …

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