The intent of the Halton Coyote Lookout map and article are commendable: to help raise awareness for the safety of people and pets, and the coyotes too. However, it has become clear that Inside Halton is failing all three of these groups through irresponsible reporting and ignoring ongoing critiques and questions raised by readers.
The online article is updated regularly by an editor after receiving information from readers who have encountered a coyote. A recent example of these updates reveals an apparent bias, as well as the critical failure in the role of editors:
COYOTE CONFRONTS DOGS AT NELSON PARK: "Yesterday, Sunday Sept. 24 at around 9:30 a.m., a friend and I were walking in Nelson Park (Burlington) with our leashed dogs. We crossed the south bridge and were confronted by an aggressive coyote waiting for us on the other side. It came after our dogs even though we were yelling at it. It was snarling and tried to attack and bite my dog twice only stopping because I charged at it. It did not leave but backed off and we were able to back away without it coming after us again."
There is a great deal of speculation on the behaviour of the animal by an individual who was startled, if not scared, by the incident – and it is the job of the media to question such statements, whether as a reporter, or an editor, regardless of if it came in as an interview or as a letter. Examples of questions that should have been asked of the individual, or of an individual who can offer interpretation of coyote behaviour, which directly changes the way the encounter is perceived by readers, include:
- Can you provide more information about the coyotes’ behaviour? Perhaps he was simply on the other side of the bridge, and was confronted by two people and their dogs.
- Was there a physical barrier such as the individuals between the coyote and the dogs? Could it have been warning snaps, similar to how dogs behave?
- Why do you feel that the coyote was acting aggressively and not defensively?
- Was this incident reported to animal control, the police, the municipality, or any other authority that may track human conflict with wildlife?
It’s possible that these questions were asked – but through the seemingly unedited format of the Halton Coyote Lookout page, it’s impossible to know. It is the responsibility of media outlets to question what they’re told, to find corroboration, and to provide alternative views for the sake of balance.
The goals of Inside Halton are commendable. But the results are not, and could in fact create dangerous scenarios by providing inaccurate information about coyote behaviour, redirecting people from authorities who are equipped and need to know about possible conflict, and building tension and fear amongst members of the community who may react negatively to these reports.
At this time, it is our request that Inside Halton remove this reporting page, or create a community resource that provides analysis of behaviour from unbiased individuals to accompany each report, the appropriate information for reporting conflict to authorities in each municipality, and remove it from the ‘News’ section, where it is intermingled with regular news, and posted on social media as regular news.
The newspapers making up Inside Halton have a long tradition of quality, responsible reporting on the people of their communities. Those communities include wildlife, and it is time they are treated with the same diligence and respect, for everyone’s sake.