Sharks and Coyotes: on being fed

I met Hervé with his young Rottweiler today in the park. He wanted to know if I had seen any coyotes — he has seen me photographing them. He wanted me to know that his dog had had two encounters with the coyotes recently, very peaceful ones. He said he had seen a coyote right in the open during the day, that the coyote had come up to his dog and sniffed its rear end, then departed. I asked him how his dog had acted around the coyote, and he told me that his dog was uninterested. This is a pattern I am finding. Seldom if ever do coyotes approach a dog who is right next to its owner. However, a couple of times I have seen a calm dog, which has been allowed to wander off a bit, actually greeted by a coyote which is nearby — usually with a brief sniffing before taking off. These dogs are calm and uninterested in coyotes, dogs who mind their own business and are not out to pursue the coyote.

It is the dogs that pursue and chase the coyotes which are the problem. Coyotes are even aware of the leashed dogs who lunge in their direction. The other day Hervé had heard a coyote barking loudly, while a woman yelled ineffectively for her dog to come: this was obviously an incident of a dog chasing a coyote. A coyote will defend itself when chased. Most often the coyote will react by barking, but there have been several instances of the coyote pursuing and nipping at a dog’s haunches to get it to move away from itself. This defensiveness is as close to aggression as the coyotes have ever gotten in our parks. We have very peaceful coyotes in our area.

We then talked about the group in the park who have been throwing stones at the coyotes and yelling at people who get close to them, claiming that habituation leads to aggression. He was very puzzled: “Why would habituation lead to aggression?” I told him that I had contacted one of our premier coyote behaviorists who said “It doesn’t, habituation does not lead to aggression.” Very few coyotes ever become aggressive at all. In an urban setting, coyotes are going to get accustomed to having people around — that is the nature of the situation. What does cause aggression is feeding. Feeding is at the root of all aggression and has to be absolutely avoided.

Hervé gave me some insight into this. He told me about shark and grouper behavior when they are fed. This information seems quite relevant to our coyotes. He is a scuba diver. He told me that groups of people, usually on tours, actually feed the sharks — sometimes by hand — to attract them. The sharks have gotten used to this, and have come to expect it. But, then, when a different group of people come by that don’t feed the sharks — they don’t know that the sharks now expect to be fed — the sharks actually pursue these people for what they have come to expect, and they do so aggressively. Groupers are known to do the same thing. In this manner, feeding leads to aggression. This type of occurrence is common knowledge among scuba divers, he told me.

This might be exactly what occurs when coyotes are fed. This is the sequence that people have to know about. Never ever feed a coyote. Feeding coyotes is the root of all aggression towards humans.

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