Attacker or Attacked?

Attacks by coyotes on humans indeed have occurred, so I don’t want to belittle these, but it should be noted that they are rare — exceedingly rare — and when they have occurred, they seem to all be related to feeding coyotes. This week a story about an ultramarathoner attacked by a coyote went viral nationally. The response to that story was splashed all over the internet, and on social exchange sites, where, by the way, because of how the story changed, the NextDoor posting was eventually removed by the author. I’ve jotted down some of my thoughts and observations about it.

One of the responses to the ultramarathoner “attack” report by many who fear coyotes was that, “it’s time to cull the coyotes here in SF.” I wish people understood that the number of coyotes has nothing to do with the marathoner’s situation. The “encounter” occurred on the Marin side of the bridge, for one thing. If there was only this one coyote in all the world, an encounter with some of the reported elements could have happened. The little truth we’ve found in the story is likely due to feeding coyotes. What apparently could have attracted a coyote is the crackling of the power bar wrapper. The reported event occurred in an area where feeding of coyotes is rampant. Before people feed coyotes they take the food out of it’s mostly crackling wrapper — imagine a potato chip bag or even a McDonald’s burger bag — and then feed the coyote. Think of Pavlov. Everytime the coyote with this training hears that noise, he’s been getting food from willing feeders. Now, possibly, the coyote hears that sound and approaches. I know a NatGeo photographer who learned this: he could instantly get an animal’s attention by crackling a potato chip bag — something I adamantly discouraged. This is a scenario that could have occurred. Lesley Sampson of CoyoteWatchCanada reminds me that even without the wrapper noise, “food becomes the “reward” for advancing closer to humans”: repeatedly fed coyotes have been taught to approach.

Coyotes who are fed regularly by someone also often display “demand” behavior: they become demanding when the food isn’t forthcoming quickly — it’s a very unusual behavior displayed by a very few coyotes who have been hand fed.

By the way, this man was running, he was not on a bike as reported by some folks, the bleeding on his face was from a fall, not a bite as originally posted — he was not bitten. As far as I have read, he wasn’t attacked at all, but possibly bumped — and I even question this — as the coyote went for the food he had been trained to expect. Three AM is when coyotes are normally out and active.

This is a screenshot from Twitter via SFGate

It’s important to note that Karnazes’ extreme initial report, as seen in this Twitter photo to the left, and his revised report — he revised his story when he was questioned by people who know coyote behavior — depict coyote behavior that is totally out of the ordinary, extraordinarily so. This deceptive photo was posted by him on Twitter with the words, “Animal Attack Beware” and “I’ve been attacked by a shark and now a coyote”. Coyotes do approach challenging dogs, but seldom do they approach people unless they’ve been trained to do so through feeding, and even then they remain hugely wary. I doubt if the coyote ever even touched him. He tripped and fell and bloodied himself doing so, then he posted this bloodied picture of himself saying he was attacked. Might he have been scared? Scared people often fill in details to justify and explain their fears.

I’ve personally seen instance after instance of what has been later reported as an “attack” which in fact was a dog allowed to get too close to a coyote, often while lunging and barking ferociously at the coyote, and then the coyote reacting with a snarl, bared teeth, and hackles up without running off and possibly even following the dog and owner afterwards. The owner thinks their dog’s activity should scare the coyote off, but in fact it causes a defensive reaction in the coyote which is reported as an “attack”. Such an encounter can be kept from escalating and curtailed by quieting and calming the dog while by immediately walking away from the coyote, but often the scared owner enhances their story calling the incident a direct attack, which it was not.

It occurred to me that he even might have posted the story facetiously, just to add some spice to his running, not knowing how seriously everyone would take him. I say this because he himself, apparently, was surprised at the coverage and then changed the story.

https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/coyote-experts-respond-to-karnazes-attack-17379330.php When all was said and done, had this actually been an “attack” on a human? Or might the whole report and sensationalism thereby engendered, be construed as an attack on coyotes? Food for thought.

More of the same today: I followed a coyote from far behind for about 1/4 mile. Way down the street was a woman walking her labradoodle. As the coyote got closer to her, I was about to call out for her to be aware, but she noticed the coyote just then and hurried across the street. This was the best thing to do. But she should have walked on. Instead she created a huge commotion and started yelling “scat, scat”, which had the sole effect of attracting the coyote’s attention, so the coyote stopped and watched from across the street before continuing her trot on down the street. The woman turned to me and told me that the coyote had been “stalking” her from way up the street. I said this wasn’t true — that I had been watching the coyote who was minding her own business and just happened to be walking down the same street as the woman and her dog. The woman screamed at me that I wasn’t there so how would I know. The fact is that I WAS there and saw what went on. This kind of altered reporting goes on all the time.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cindie
    Aug 21, 2022 @ 18:50:27

    What a powerful report. THANK YOU. I wish every person in the world would read it.

    Reply

  2. Jo Thompson
    Aug 21, 2022 @ 20:54:10

    Well done for taking on this issue. As you say, he was scared. He admitted so later when questioned by reporters who actually pushed him for the facts. When a SFGATE reporter pressed him for specific details of the encounter, his story became for less dramatic and it quickly became clear that after opening an energy bar package, while running full speed, he heard footsteps behind him that he interpreted to just be a dog. He spun around and the coyote “slammed into” him. That made him lose his balance, which caused him to fall. There was NO attack. He was experiencing full adrenaline pump when he made the video of himself. And he was as shocked as the coyote (who ran off after they collided). So, his initial videoed story was grossly distorted by his emotions. He told the reporter: “And if you want greater detail, I peed my pants. That was also a first.”

    Reply

  3. MelindaH
    Aug 21, 2022 @ 22:20:26

    So glad you picked this one up, and ran with it…as it were 🤣 Nice job getting the word out!

    Reply

  4. Dr. James B. Mense
    Aug 21, 2022 @ 22:49:35

    More fake news. That seems to happen more and more often these days!
    If you remember last spring my bird dogs and I were approached very closely by a coyote that was defending it’s den. I was never concerned for my safety, only that of my bird dog pup! My older dog was trained and remained at heel but the young pup alternately chased and was chased all the way back to my vehicle.
    The solution, as you pointed out, was to stay out of the area which I did.
    As a retired biologist I understand that a 30 pound animal will not willingly attack a 180 pound animal, but city folks often lack common sense and the ability to reason it seems.

    Reply

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