Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Ghosts of the cities' rarely seen

Coyote sightings more common as urban development sprawls into 'trickster' territory

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"PETER. Look, a coyote," I said in an excited but semi-hushed tone while pointing to a spot directly ahead of us into the riverbank forest about 150 metres north of where we stood.

My friend and I were out for our usual vigorous walk on a recent Friday morning in Kildonan Park. We then made our way along the adjacent active-transportation route by the fenced-off golf course towards the Settler's Bridge (sometimes referred to as the Chief Peguis Bridge).

Then, voila! I spotted the thick-haired, greyish-brown coyote (Canis latrans).

With its pointed ears, slim muzzle and drooping bushy black-tipped tail, there was no mistaking it for anything other than a coyote -- similar in appearance to a smaller-sized German shepherd and probably weighing 13 to 16 kilograms.

After that first sighting, we continued along the path past the old Bergen Cut-off swing bridge.

The coyote reappeared a few minutes later.

This time it was only about 25 metres away. The coyote lingered long enough for Peter to snap a photo with his small, green digital camera.

Then, the trickster (as its known in First Nations mythology) slipped away down the embankment and we lost sight of it. But, what a wonderful wildlife experience right here in the city.

Although I have seen coyotes on wilderness trips, this was my first sighting of this mid-sized wild canid in the city; although Peter said he observed one several years ago along the Red River near St. John's Park in North End Winnipeg.

Another friend, Frank, a retired civil servant, told me he spotted a coyote six years ago by the Witch's Hut in Kildonan Park. "We have two major rivers in the city with a lot of natural habitat, and these provide travelling corridors for wildlife," biologist Brian Joynt, who works for Conservation Manitoba, said during a presentation earlier this winter.

So it's not uncommon for various critters, including coyotes, to pass through on their way elsewhere.

But, as Joynt noted, there is probably a small resident population of coyotes in Winnipeg.

It has become a common urban species as cities have expanded outward.

For example, the Cook County, Ill., Coyote Project website reports that although a relatively recent occurrence, coyotes have become the top carnivores in an increasing number of metropolitan areas across North America.

"Originally known as ghosts of the plains, coyotes have now become ghosts of the cities, occasionally heard but rarely seen," says the online material.

"This includes one of the largest urban centres in the Midwest -- the Chicago metropolitan region. Compared to other urban wildlife, however, we know very little about how coyotes are becoming successful in landscapes dominated by people."

Los Angeles, Vancouver (especially in Stanley Park), Calgary and Edmonton, among other cities, have all become places where coyotes are coexisting (in a manner of speaking) with people.

Coyotes are most common in the agricultural areas of Manitoba, but now range into the boreal forest and as far north as Flin Flon and Thompson.

"The total number of coyotes is virtually impossible to estimate but they are considered abundant," said Joynt, who added that from 3,000 to 8,000 coyotes are harvested each year by licensed trappers in Manitoba.

He pointed out coyotes are now seen more frequently in urban and suburban centres of Manitoba.

"Many people believe that urban coyotes primarily eat garbage and pets," says information available from the Province of Manitoba.

"Although coyotes are predators, they are also opportunistic and shift their diets to take advantage of the most available prey. Coyotes are generally scavengers and predators of small prey, but can shift to large prey occasionally."

Coyotes suffer from diseases such as canine distemper, rabies, canine hepatitis, and parvovirus.

They are also susceptible to frequent outbreaks of sarcoptic mange, an infestation by microscopic mites that causes intense itching, scratching and hair loss.

In urban areas, coyotes will take advantage of unsecured garbage or pet food if these attractants are left outside.

So, be cautious and appreciate them, and all wild creatures, from a safe distance.

Peter and I both agreed our encounter with the coyote was a magical experience.

 

Martin Zeilig is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2013 A13

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