Science scholarship supports coyote research in Ontario

An image showing a coyote caught by a trail cam
A coyote (Canis latrans)caught passing a trail camera.
Photo by Nicole Murphy

Coyotes play an important role in ecosystems across Canada, but they are often misunderstood and portrayed negatively, especially in the media. As part of her Honours Thesis, Nicole Murphy sought to understand the public’s attitudes towards coyotes and how the media may impact those perceptions.

Nicole is a fourth-year student in the School of the Environment at Trent University and a recipient of The Fur-Bearers Arts & Science scholarship. The scholarship was awarded to support her research into human-coyote coexistence and allowed her to purchase trail cameras for this study.

Nicole recently completed her Honours Thesis and summarized her research findings on a project website. Her research methods included a media analysis, a survey of the Trent campus community, and trail cam data. The website features her key thesis findings, train cam photos of coyotes, coyote facts and myths, and a map of coyote sightings around the Trent Nature Areas.

We’re excited to share her research and congratulate Nicole for completing her thesis! Click here to view her website and learn more.

We followed up with Nicole to discuss her findings and reflect on her research.

Q: Your research found that coyotes were frequently portrayed negatively in the media. How does that contrast with your understanding of coyotes?

Coyotes have adapted to be able to survive in city environments where many larger carnivores cannot. I think this is part of the reason the media portrays them in a negative way. Coyotes are frequently portrayed negatively in the media because of fear and misunderstandings. However, I’ve learned that coyotes are human avoidant, and even adjust their schedules to fit how humans and society functions. I understand coyotes to be extremely family oriented which is something the media doesn’t always highlight. Coyotes are a natural and important part of their ecosystems contributing to rodent and prey management and seed dispersal.

This word cloud depicts common words in the media analysis. Larger words occurred more frequently.
Image by Nicole Murphy

Q: What is one main message that you’d like to communicate to the public about coyotes?

The main message that I would want to convey is that coyotes aren’t out to get people or their pets. They’re just animals trying to live in areas that are often in direct opposition to their daily survival.

I hope people are made aware of common practices that can harm coyotes and increase possibilities of habituation. Such as feeding wildlife, not leashing dogs and intentional and unintentional sources of food for coyotes as all these practices can inhibit coexistence.

Most importantly I would want the public to realize that coyotes are not intruders in urban and suburban areas. They are integral to these ecosystems and we should be happy when there’s coyotes in our neighborhoods as this signifies a balanced ecosystem.

When asked if survey respondents had any concerns about coyotes living so close to campus, the majority of respondents said no (n=267).
Image by Nicole Murphy

Q: What is the impact you hope to achieve through your research?

I would be hopeful that my research would spread the idea that coyotes are not scary, or a threat to urban communities, and just like all wildlife, if we respect their boundaries and give them space then coexistence is possible. But human actions need to change to accommodate these animals.

Also coyotes do avoid humans and pets, but without areas to live (green spaces, parks) they will be forced to visibly exist in areas closer to people. This can increase encounters and make coexistence harder to achieve. With increased urban development taking over coyote habitat, coyote human coexistence will be more difficult to achieve.

This can be seen happening in real time at the Trent Seniors Village which has required the development of green areas, removing these spots for coyote habitat.

A coyote (Canis latrans) wanders through snow, captured by a trail camera.
Photo by Nicole Murphy

The Fur-Bearers offers several scholarships to promote coexistence with wildlife. To learn more about our scholarships, click here.

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Established in 1953, The Fur-Bearers is a charitable, non-partisan organization whose goals are to end the commercial fur trade and promote solutions for wildlife coexistence in communities. Your donation is tax-deductible. Charitable registration number: 130006125RR0002

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