by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
Coyote Killing Appeals to Irrationality, Always
The “Living With Coyotes Information Night” in the stylish area of Toronto called “The Beach,” held last March 19, started with a group of speakers with various levels of expertise about coyotes presenting information about these wild canines who live among us, not always amicably. Two small dogs have been killed by coyotes, and there has been a reported spike in missing cats. With cats you can’t rule out some being caught by great horned owls, common but largely unseen in Toronto. Cars and dogs take their toll, coyotes getting the blame.
The experts were unanimous in their advice: Above all else, do not feed or befriend the coyotes. Make yourself look big and threatening, and don’t run. Don’t leave food available, intentionally or accidentally. And if there is a coyote in your yard, don’t put out birdfeed for a while. It attracts potential prey such as mice, cottontails and squirrels. A website specific to the Beach is available at www.beachcoyotecoalition.org, where its “Living With Coyotes” pamphlet can be freely downloaded.
Ah, but for Rude Lady, that was not enough. I don’t know her real name, but she was one of a number of vocal critics, or unhappy residents, or … well … I’m not sure what to call them. They seemed to want the impossible: a guarantee that no child would ever be at risk from any coyote in any way, ever. Rude Lady didn’t start out rude, and in a discussion with her after the presentations, she acknowledged that coyotes could not be gotten rid of, but her concern was that somewhere she had read they can take prey as heavy as a young child, so why not a young child?
She started to become rude when I pointed out that the risk posed to children by coyotes was too small to measure, and that many other things in our midst, from hockey pucks to falling trees, had proved equally or more dangerous to kids. Cars have killed more people, children and adults, than all the wars combined, and yet we don’t get rid of them. What we do is mitigate against the danger. For coyotes it is a danger so small that after millions of times that coyotes and people have come together the number of times a child has been killed is one, and one young adult who was more likely killed by a coyote-dog hybrid.
Rude Lady didn’t care. “Don’t you dare start talking statistics,” she said. I said that I understood, “But …”
to be killed by this than by a coyote.
“There is no but!” she said, and turned away. Hey; I’m Canadian. Rudeness in a social setting is, well, alien. The “but” was to be followed by something like, “We’re here to work against danger as well as possible, and here’s what we’ve learned.” What she wanted, and essentially said, was the kind of absolute security that is impossible to achieve. For an unnamed “them” to “do something.”
Two things happened shortly after the meeting. There was an article to the effect that something called Kinder eggs were legal in Canada and around the world, but illegal in the United States. A traveller was facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines for trying to “smuggle” them into the United States. What are they? Drugs? Weapons? Nope — candy, a hollow shell of chocolate with a plastic toy inside. The toy was deemed a choking hazard for toddlers in the United States, but not the rest of the planet.
Kids have died, apparently, making it far more dangerous than coyotes, and yet a trip to the drug store proved that they could be easily obtained, even in The Beach. I wondered what Rude had done to rid Canada of this menace to toddlers.
I’ve frequently read that Americans put “terrorists” near the top of the list of things they fear, even though the statistical likelihood of an American being killed by a terrorist is about 1 in 20 million. It’s a common phenomenon, this fear of the unfamiliar.
So … having been around animals all my life, I don’t fear coyotes. Rude does. No one says there is no risk to any child ever, so in her mind, coyotes are dangerous in ways that far more dangerous things are not of proportionate concern. Coyotes are safer than trees, or ice, or toys, or just about anything I can name, but note that when faced with fact she resorted to rudeness, a failure to articulate how the impossible, a world without coyotes, could be achieved, as opposed to a world where any risk, already too small to measure, coyotes could pose would be reduced by the actions of the community.
But you have to get past fear and hatred and work collectively for the common good. Instead, people such as Rude seem to think some government agency, or armed cop or game warden, or producer of a magic bullet, or “they,” will come to the rescue. Nope. It’s up to us.