If it seems like coyotes in Ballard are less and less fearful of humans, it’s probably because they’re learning to be bold from their parents.
A University of Washington Tacoma study, published in Ecology and Evolution, has found that habituated coyote parents are passing their fearlessness on to their offspring.
Author of the study and assistant professor Christopher Schell conducted his research as part of his doctoral work at the University of Chicago. For the study, he focused on eight coyote families at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Predator Research Facility in Millville, Utah, which was set up in the 70s to reduce coyote attacks on livestock.
Schnell told UW News that while it’s rare that coyotes threaten or attack people, when it does happen it ends up being blown out of proportion. “We want to understand the mechanisms that contribute to habituation and fearlessness, to prevent these situations from occurring.”
The study sought to explain how rural coyotes are learning to be fearless when living in urban environments. What Schnell found is that the habituated behavior is likely taught to offspring.
According to UW News, the research team placed food near the entrance to the coyote’s enclosure, and had a researcher sit just outside the entrance everyday for five weeks while pups were one- to three-months old to document how soon coyotes would venture toward the food.
Schnell said the first season of the study, there were a few bold individuals, but for the most part, the pups were more wary. However, the second season, things had changed: “But when we came back and did the same experiment with the second litter, the adults would immediately eat the food — they wouldn’t even wait for us to leave the pen in some instances,” Schnell told UW News.
“Parents became way more fearless, and in the second litter, so, too, were the puppies.”
King County wildlife biologist Chris Anderson told My Ballard it’s up to us to prevent habituation: “Exclude, exclude, exclude — even haze them. When you see them, encourage them to keep going. Throw something at them. If you have a noise-maker, use it. Studies show that that effort and education is the ultimate answer to manage them.”
To read about the UW study in full, visit UW News.
File photo by John Gilbert