Bruce Walsh was midway through his daily yoga routine at an east Toronto park one night last week when he spotted the beast emerging from the shadows.
“At first I didn’t know what it was, but it was headed right for me,” said Walsh, 52, who jumped out of his pose to get a better look at what he soon realized was a coyote charging across Riverdale Park toward him.
The “urban coyote” has become a fixture in Greater Toronto’s parks, ravines and valleys since migrating east from North America’s central plains more than a century ago, its presence reflected in the growing number of sightings reported to authorities in recent years.
Though tracking the exact number of coyotes in the area is near impossible, Brent Patterson, a wolf and coyote researcher with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, said “there are probably coyotes in most green spaces across the GTA.”
For the most part, the predators remain out of sight, he said, sticking to protected green areas, feeding on natural foods such as rabbits and mice, and reserving their activity for the night. But some can, and do, become bold and aggressive with humans.
Last January, an 8-year-old Oakville girl was attacked by a coyote in her family’s backyard, suffering bite marks and bruises during the ordeal. A few months later, a coyote charged at a Toronto police officer at Cherry Beach. Taking no chances, officers shot the animal dead and warned people not to let small children or dogs roam in the open.
Mississauga’s animal services department has received more than three times the number of calls regarding coyotes this year compared to last, prompting officials to launch a public awareness campaign to educate and ease concern.
“We’ve seen an increase in concern,” said Linda Dent, a public education officer with Mississauga’s animal services department.
That concern, however, is not likely due to a rising number of coyotes in the area, said Patterson, but rather a select number of coyotes that grown comfortable with being spotted in daylight.
Walsh, who had moments to act that night in Riverdale Park before the coyote reached his feet, began yell, clap his hands and jump up and down as the animal ran toward him, an intimidation tactic he learned years ago in outdoor adventure program Outward Bound.
“I’m of the Jaws generation. I’m terrified of being eaten alive … I was just screaming ‘Coyote, coyote!,’ said Walsh, describing how the animal veered away, but charged two more times before it disappeared.
Meerburg said coyotes, if left alone and not fed by humans, generally know to stay away from the public. They understand that humans are at the top of the food chain, he said.
But if they approach, Meerburg advised the public to follow Walsh’s lead — look big and intimidating, make loud noises and do your best to scare away the animal. Never try to run, he said.