It’s a terrifying headline: 3-year-old girl attacked by coyote. It immediately causes you to worry, to be afraid, to even get angry. But that’s the power of words, and why it’s so important that media take the time to ask the right questions and present information within context.
- A toddler came into contact with a coyote. We don’t say attacked or bitten because all she received was “superficial injuries” to the back of her leg – and even a chihuahua will break the skin if they genuinely want to cause harm.
- The occurrence took place at a newly developed park. The park has ravines and green space but is also surrounded by suburban or urban homes and development.
- A conservation officer killed a coyote.
Those are the straight forward facts we can pull from two different news articles – and that’s not good enough. Here are the questions that should be asked and published (even if they go unanswered) to provide accurate reporting of the incident:
- What was the toddler doing preceding and at the time of the conflict?
- Was the toddler alone or unattended at the time of the conflict?
- What was the nature of the injury? Was it a scratch or scrape from a paw, from a tooth, from falling down running away?
- What is the evidence that indicates this was definitely a coyote and not an off-leash dog or other animal?
- Was an investigation into the behaviour of the coyote conducted? The conservation officer quoted stated that people shouldn’t feed coyotes but doesn’t offer if that’s what led to the incident.
- Are there off leash dogs in the area, or other pressures causing stress to wildlife?
- Was a necropsy or toxicology on the deceased coyote ordered?
- Were any fines or tickets issued to people for feeding coyotes or in any other way behaving unsafely with wildlife?
Failing to ask these questions – and failing to fight to get them answered – does a disservice to the community, the wildlife, and those involved in the story. Successful co-existence requires clear communication – and that starts with our community newspapers learning how to report on wildlife-related issues.
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