Massive coyote stirring widespread debate

Barb Sweet
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The 82-pound coyote Joe Fleming shot this week on the Bonavista Peninsula is causing a stir online and in scientific circles. — Submitted image

The story of the 82-pound coyote not only has this province and the Internet buzzing, but wildlife watchers across the country are talking about it, too.

Memorial University is doing the DNA testing on the brute, shot this week by Joe Fleming on the Bonavista Peninsula. The story garnered nearly 60,000 hits on The Telegram website and more than 180 comments by mid-afternoon Thursday.

Many are skeptical it is, in fact, a coyote because it looks wolf-like.

Environment and Conservation Minister Terry French wondered  Wednesday if the creature could be a wolf that crossed on the ice from Labrador or, perhaps, a hybrid or the result of a coyote-dog crossbreeding.

The DNA testing could have complications, but the mystery could be solved soon.

Steve Carr of the biology department at MUN said how the testing proceeds and what further genetic investigation is required will depend on what’s found at each stage.

The tests will be completed by Beth Perry, assisted by Brettney Pilgrim at the university’s Genomics and Proteomics (GaP) Facility, he said.

The breed of coyote in Newfoundland is known as the eastern coyote, which is believed to have interbred with wolves during their trek from the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, through the Maritimes and into Newfoundland.

Carr noted research by Dawn Marshall on Newfoundland coyote genetics and is assuming the animal is a hybrid.


“My guess would have been a wolf-coyote hybrid that’s relatively recent. Another possibility is that it could be a dog-coyote hybrid as some people could have suggested,” he said.

And he further suggested it could be the result of a male coyote mating with a female husky.

Carr noted MUN has amassed a large database on the animals on the island.

“The biggest one that’s ever been seen on the island is about 40 pounds and a 50-pound coyote would be really big anywhere,” he said.

Coyotes, based on MUN’s research, are believed to have shown up on the island in the mid-1980s, possibly a single pair.

Some academics and wildlife watchers remain incredulous at the thoughts of an 82-pound coyote.

“Eighty two pounds is way out there … It sounds far-fetched. On the scientific side of it, I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Lesley Sampson, co-founder of Coyote Watch Canada, a group based in Niagara region, Ont., that tracks coyote sightings, but also promotes “compassionate” wildlife communities.

The group is not in favour of killing the animals.

Sampson wondered Thursday if the animal was a dog let go into the wild or a wolf crossbreed.

She said Ontario data indicates male coyotes weigh in between 35-45 pounds.

Brad White, chairman of the biology department at Trent University and director of the Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Centre, said researchers use the term “canis soup,” to describe the hybridization among species — wolf, coyote and dog genes mixed together.

But he was still amazed at the size of the creature Fleming shot, if it is, in fact, a coyote.

And if tests do reveal it is just one massive eastern coyote, he said the population may be evolving in size as a predator for moose.

“It might actually control the moose population,” he said.

The attention the story is getting has retired national parks worker Fred Wallace concerned.

“It’s being hyped up as the big, bad wolf,” he said Thursday.

He said the coyotes are afraid of humans.

“They are living in cities now.... They don’t steal kids. They don’t eat kids,” said Wallace said, adding dogs and cats are just small rabbits to them.

And he said the caribou they take down are usually the older, sicker animals.

Wallace also criticized the 10-month coyote season and said when females are shot, no one thinks about their pups which may be dying a slow, miserable death somewhere.

Twitter: bsweettweets

Organizations: The Telegram, U.S. Eastern Seaboard, Trent University Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Centre

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Niagara, Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Luke
    March 11, 2013 - 10:28

    Well, was it a coyote or a wolf or a hybrid or a dog.. Inquiring minds want to know..

  • Rob. R.
    March 28, 2012 - 11:36

    The brainworm and human activity is causing the decline in caribou numbers.It is not Coyotes or bears.Bears do take some calves and sick animals,but bears have always been here with the caribou.Again it is human activity,brainworm and the well known fact that caribou populations are cyclic.Until a hundred years ago wolfs also took caribou.We have a moose overpopulation problem in many areas, we need large canids to keep numbers to a healthy level.Shorten the coyote season.We need more coyote/wolves in Newfoundland and fewer idiots out there killing for no reason.It shows weakness of charictar,causes unnecessary suffering,(for the pups and adults)and it is wasteful.I will say it again;If you aint gonna eat it,don't shoot it.To kill for the sake of killing is pretty weak and pathetic.

  • Samantha
    March 26, 2012 - 23:36

    Ok.. Im a Newfoundlander, and still living in Newfoundland. I'm so sick of hearing about the coyote population! They are NO threat! I think its disgusting to shoot an wild animal for the "fun" of it! I'm pretty sure that there hasnt been any coyote attacks in Newfoundland. Your shooting theses animals because they "may" attack a child/domestic animal. HELLO PEOPLE! Look up how many people have died due to coyote attacks, then look up how many people have been killed by dog attacks! I'm sorry but dogs are way more unpredictable than any coyote. And we live with our dogs and have them around our children EVERY DAY!! Also I know a few people who have been hunting coyotes for the last two years, want to take a guess on how many they shot? Actually guess how many they seen.. NONE! not a one! And as goes for the coyotes eating all the caribou, wrong again! Actually the diet of a coyote consists of about 15% caribou and 40% moose! And the only reason moose is so high on their diet is because they eat the panch that "WE" leave behind for them.. So all you so called hunters Bravo! The rest of their diet is rabbit and other small animals. Newfoundlanders are just so eager to pull the trigger on any animal. Moose are the leading cause of deaths in accidents in Newfoundland yet we praise them. We want people to come embrace them. We even have giant moose statues in some towns. People in Ontario/Alberta and BC have been living with coyotes grizzly bears and wolves and there are no trigger happy hunters filling up their truck pans with animals. No instead they make you aware that they have them, and give you instructions on how protect yourself againts them if they do feel the need to attack. I mean come on people, its a big place why cant we just share the beautiful province with the wildlife.

  • Jen
    March 19, 2012 - 17:27

    Was the coyote shot because it happened to be so big and there was the possibility that it is a part-dog hybrid? If there is no other way to determine how the coyote population is changing in its new habitat and whether it is interbreeding with dogs, then the shooting of the animal to determine its ancestry is necessary. If the coyote population contains part-dog hybrids, that should be of concern to the people living in the area. Hybrid animals can be much bigger and stronger than the parents and animals that are half-dog / half-wolf or other wild canid species can be especially dangerous if there are people living in the area: the animals may have no fear of humans.

  • tim meenan
    March 19, 2012 - 15:59

    live and let live ! no, i would not have shot this animal !

  • newfiegirl
    March 19, 2012 - 08:35

    to be honest i think its a hybrid: (a wolf mix) but even it it is a wolf, there safer to be around, they hunt in packs and as far as ive known only for food, ive seen and heard of coyotes hunting and killing what looked to be like just for the kill and not for food, but you dont see that with wolfs (from what i know of them), i was out huntng with my fieonce last year and i saw what we thought was a verry large coyote but not the bigest seen in the area, (about 80-90 lbs if i where to guess the weight as we never atmpted to kill it)it was black in color and the size of a large newfoundland dog, which is certainly not normal for a coyote and i know all the residence in the area none of which have a dog that big, and i did hear stories that a logging company had thought about introducing a hybrid at one point to stop the moose population from expanding because it was ruining the trees ,i dont thhink there was a real need for him to have killed the animal ony to show that the coyotes are getting much larger in newfoundland, i personaly would feel safer with the wolf being on the island as they only kill for food, unless threatend...

  • fedup
    March 17, 2012 - 10:10

    I'sm sick and tired of these so called animal lovers complaining about killing this animal. Maybe we should sedate these animals and deposit them in YOUR backyard with YOUR little children and grandchildren. Maybe they could play with them for a bit. Listen these are not pets or domesticated animals these are wild animals that are foreign to this land. they don't belong here. What would you IDIOTS say if there were some children attacked and killed or seriously harmed while camping. Until the intrusion of the predators out forests were very safe. All I know if one steps in front of my truck it's road kill city for it. And I won't feel abit bad about it.

    • Gordon
      March 17, 2012 - 12:33

      Only three people killed by a wolf or coyote in the history of modern North America. But yet hudreds killed by pet dogs. So should I kill my dogs or my neighbours dogs because they may kill someones child? Talk sense please. You can't kill something of what it may do. Just for the record a pet dog is more dangerous for your children to around than a coyote of wolf. So if you wouldn't kill someones pet dog, then your reasons you state for kiulling coyotes is proven to be a lie.

    • You sir, are the idiot
      May 14, 2012 - 10:05

      "Maybe we should sedate these animals and deposit them in YOUR backyard with YOUR little children and grandchildren. Maybe they could play with them for a bit." Yet we're the idiots? untill these animals are known to be out killing children then they should be treated with animal rights. You dont put down a cat or a dog unless it proves to be harmful so why do it with these animals? and road kill for the city hey? And there animals they belong here just as much as we do.. Please stick to facts and not just your lack of intelligence and your ignorance..

  • John petten
    March 16, 2012 - 18:54

    2 coyote fatalities in north american history... and one "healthy" wolf fatality. Why are people afraid? Are Newfoundlanders really this backwards? I'm okay with hunting coyotes if the population can sustain it. Likewise with wolves...but "SHOOT THEM ALL" or "DEY BEES EATIN DA MOOSE AND CARIBOU AND DEY'RE AROUND DA SCHOOLYARDS AND IM AFRAID FOR ME YOUNGERS" arguments are pretty stupid. Grow up people. There is absolutely nothing to fear. Fleming shot the coyote, the coyote did not shoot Fleming.

  • John Glowa
    March 16, 2012 - 18:05

    The animal was a wolf. It doesn't take a DNA test to show that. Its size and appearance are virtually identical to wolves killed here in the northeast U.S. for the last twenty years. Shame on the Newfoundland government for calling this animal a coyote. Shame on the "hunter" for killing it. The people of Newfoundland should rejoice in the return of the wolf as a natural predator of caribou and moose herds and of coyotes. Wolves kill coyotes and occupy much larger territories therefore their numbers would be far fewer than coyotes. Wolves would have a lesser impact on moose and caribou calves than coyotes have because of their lesser numbers and their greater size that would allow them to take down a mature animal. The extermination of wolves by humans created an ecological void that will be filled by wolves if humans allow it to happen. Predation by wolves not only helps to keep the numbers of prey animals in check, it also strengthens them by removing primarily the weaker and less fit prey. Wolf recovery in Newfoundland will mean less moose on the roadways. Wolf recovery in Newfoundland will be a boon to the ecotourism industry. Tourists will watch whales and seabirds by day and howl to wolves by night. Ontario's Algonquin Park is famous for its wolf howling forays. I strongly encourage Newfoundlanders to learn the truth about wolves and their benefits to the ecosystem and economy and to work together for their return.

    • cynthia green
      April 04, 2012 - 07:00

      It is nice to finally read a comment on this site of a mature knowlegable person. Thank you John Glowa. Your post is tactful and interesting.

  • Klair
    March 16, 2012 - 13:33

    Look where this animal was shot ! It sufferd mightly can be sure. That man is no hunter...nor sportsman. Disgusting and shamefull ..shedding a bad light on responsible hunters and sportsman alike.

  • Gordon
    March 16, 2012 - 13:15

    There have been a grand total of two human deaths in North America from a coyote attack. But there are hundreds of deaths from pet dogs. Deer and moose kill more people in Canada every year then wolves or coyotes. So for those that are advocating shooting coyotes for safety, if you don't shoot pet dogs or moose as they wander by you have proven that you are making decisions based on irrational fears. Why shoot a coyote but not a dog if the dogs have been proven to be more dangerous? Also driving a car with your children inside, is far more dangerous for your children than letting them be around coyotes.

  • Jamie Stone
    March 16, 2012 - 12:57

    I am from Newfoundland and you guys act bizarre when it comes to Coyotes. I'm sure if it is a wolf you'll want to kill those off too because of the negative connotations of these animals pumped into you via Hollywood. Everywhere else in North America lives with coyotes, bears, cougars, etc but in Newfoundland people go out and fill the pan of their truck with shot coyotes. Its super weird. No I'm not a bleeding heart anti gun person. I in fact own a 40 cal Springfield XD and not for target practice - meaning I would use it on someone invading my home but I wouldn't go out an shoot coyotes for fun. just think back home we are too quick to kill anything we don't quite understand. If it is a wolf so what; there's more moose in NL than people anyway and wolves will help with that.

  • Paul
    March 16, 2012 - 12:19

    What I do not undestnd is howsomeone could come across this animal, is it a wolf? coyote? dog? hybrid? Ah, who cares just shoot it right? Rediculous! Furter, it seems too many who fall for the 'big bad wolf" theory about coyotes and wolves far too often paint their opposition as automatically holding the "cuddly" opposing emotion based view. Not true fr most I am afraid but all the comments about "killer" coyotes ARE emotion baed...on fear. Given the number of these animals compared to the number of human interactions it is rediculous to say tey are any true threat. Do not mistake capacity or intent. Many living creatures are capale of harming people, coyotes, wolve, bears, dogs etc. fortunately for us they rarely have the intent to do so unless we provoke them. To bad this "hunter" could not have learned that lesson before killing the animal. Finally, blaming coyotes for caribou decline shows a distinct lack of knowledge of the nature of predator and prey relationships and the myriad of challenges faced by our caribou including many human based causes for mortality. Please look at the entire picture before laying blame.

  • Bill Montevecchi
    March 16, 2012 - 12:09

    The Newfoundland Wolf is extinct. The subspecies of the Newfoundland wolf is named after the Beothuk People who are also extinct. If this animal that was living in the wilderness and not bothering anyone and that was relentlessly stalked by a trophy hunter was a wolf , a partial wolf or even a mega-coyote, why is this guy a hero? This is trophy hunting of the destructive and disturbing sort.

    • will to power
      March 16, 2012 - 13:27

      Joe Fleming is no hero. He killed an animal that posed no threat to life or property. I am disgusted by the comments here that call for an effort to wipe these creatures from the province, but not completely surprised. Some people are blood-thirsty. Some people are misinformed. Some people are ignorant and some people simply don't give a damn. I'm trying to decide where Mr. Fleming fits, but the smirk on his face gives me clues. Thank god the lowland gorilla doesn't live in Newfoundland. They'd be screwed, for sure.

  • Christa
    March 16, 2012 - 11:10

    I can't believe everyone is still talking about these animals killing children. The case in Cape Breton last year was very tragic, but also very RARE. Everyone keeps citing it in their arguments, but how many other coyote attributed deaths have there been? Someone please answer that. How about Labrador where there are coyotes AND wolves, how many children are eaten there on a regular basis? I'm not saying coyotes are 'sweet and cuddly', any wild animal has the potential to be dangerous, and yes we will have to be aware of them and maybe make some changes (not letting our small pets out unattended, etc.). But the level of panic and paranoia surrounding these new residents is a little embarrassing. Get a grip everyone.

  • Tee
    March 16, 2012 - 10:45

    I wish everyone would look at the big picture, --A coyote breeds when it's between 1 ond 2 yrs old with a normal litter of 6 pups , they are not native to NFLD, just ignoring them is not an option, with the population booming as it is with a 10 month hunting season / Without a season how long would it be before they consume every small animal around, once their wild food becomes harder to get, they will look for another source , thats where humans come in-- because we have pets, garbage etc.. there should be open season on them with a higher bounty, this might help with the population control-/-- Wallace worries about the pups dying what about rabbit kittens dying when the coyote kills the mother--- !!!!! just wondering ? or is that just nature ??

  • Zach
    March 16, 2012 - 10:15

    While I don't agree with hunting this species to extinction, I do recognise that there is a potential problem if they are left completely unchecked. Coyotes are adapting to urbanization and moving further into the towns, and if you think they wont consider a 60 pound child a meal, you're wrong. Ask Taylor Mitchell family, who lost their 19 year old daughter to coyotes in Cape Breton in 2009. This is not some Disney "fox in the hound" creature that you can tame and be OMGbestest friends with. Recently coyotes have been seen around Mount Pearl and Paradise, which is where I have a problem. They should be monitored around city limits and eliminated if they come in too close. It's a city, not a petting zoo. Towns and Rural communities should follow a similar policy, but honestly, someone in these rural areas has a .223 and will take care of them with or without permission. As long as they stay in the woods, they should not be hunted. They do control moose population to an extent, but decimate the rabbit and small animal populations for the most part. It's a debate that will go on for a while yet, and both opinions have merit, but if I see one in my backyard around my family, I'm dropping it.

  • Rebecca Mullin
    March 16, 2012 - 10:11

    I am pleased that Lesley Sampson is involved as well as Mr. Wallace. Hearing the voices of reason at long last is reason to celebrate! Hurrah! There is no need to be killing any wild canid as they are beneficial and needed, as an apex predator is, and they are NOT the "big bad wolf" that many people portray them to be. Let us listen to reason, science, and logic and make sense of this. It is sad that this animal was brutally slayed. NO NEED!!! Do not feed any wild dogs because they are wild. Keep your pets inside or on a short leash. Contain your food! Let the coyotes/wolves have what little land they have left and let them do their job as it is the way of the earth. Predators should live in peace. With that said, we know the eastern coyotes are here to stay and we must evolve/adapt to that fact. Stop the killing sprees! I pray that the wolves are making a comeback as well! Kudos to the responsible and ethical debate! Let them all live!

  • Alan
    March 16, 2012 - 10:08

    Y'know, looking at the photo for a second time, I fail to understand what there is to be smiling about A dead animal, an incredibly beautiful one, who's death serves no purpose. Can someone explain how some people feel such a sense of entitlement, that they would have the audacity to take another species from it's home without cause? To possess it simply because they can? To deprive many of us from the possibility of witnessing the beauty of this animal ALIVE? Who are these people and what is THEIR purpose aside from destruction?

    • Lori
      March 16, 2012 - 10:59

      Bravo Alan, you took the words right out of my mouth. So very sad........

    • will to power
      March 16, 2012 - 13:07

      Sadly, in this case, I don't think there was a purpose other than the pleasure of killing and the chance of winning a hunting contest. I don't understand how people get their kicks from seeing another living thing die.

  • C
    March 16, 2012 - 10:04

    I am in shock at the people who think coyotes are cute and cuddly things living in the woods! They are being spotted more and more in neighbourhoods and it's only a matter of time before a child goes missing or is attacked! Coyotes are dangerous and if you pay attention to the news, there has been attacks in eastern Canada. 2 people in Halifax in recent years. And it's only a matter of time before someone here gets attacked and I dont want that to be me or anyone I know. I'm glad that people are killing them!

    • will to power
      March 16, 2012 - 12:55

      Only about 2 people (on average) get bitten or scratched by coyotes every year in Canada. Compare that to almost half a million dog bites. Your attempt at scaremongering is pathetic. BTW, not once did I see a comment describe the coyote as "cuddly" here. You have a thing for exaggeration, obviously.

  • Gail
    March 16, 2012 - 09:57

    Kudos to Lesley Sampson and Fred Wallace. Their scientific expertise combined with a hint of compassionate perspective is exactly what is necessary to educate the public. Excellent food for thought for ALL.

  • Brenda
    March 16, 2012 - 09:48

    As previously mentioned the wolf "Cull"across Canada and the US decades ago backfired miserably as the prey populace namely the deer (mainland) and Moose grew in such numbers that a great many of them eventually starved to death as their numbers swelled. I truely wish that we learn from the past and let nature regenerate and adapt to the changes we have created. Here in Newfoundland, the Moose population has grown considerably after being introduced years ago, this being another interference that has negative consequences. I think 10 months is definately too long of a hunting season on coyotees as they seem to be the only other predator for the Moose.

  • Christa
    March 16, 2012 - 08:39

    "Thank you Mr. Wallace for injecting the voice of reason to the knee-jerk moronic commentary of many of those who have posted on this topic the past several days." I couldn't agree more. Coyotoes are everywhere and you hardly see the news flooded with stories of them eating people. Dogs kill more people than they do. They're here to stay, people need to accept it and move on. If anything it's good, they'll fill the void in the ecosystem left when the Newfoundland wolf was hunted to extinction, and as was noted in the above article, possibly help control the moose population.

    • Get the facts right
      March 16, 2012 - 09:32

      I find it absolutely amazing when a so called expert like Mr. Wallace makes statements which lack any scientific evidence and even untrue but then purports them to be fact. First and foremost the caribou herds in Newfoundland are in a massive decline. Science, not some retired park warden’s flippant remarks, has proven that coyotes are a major factor in this decline. It is proven that coyotes prey on Caribou during the calving season. Of the 57 caribou that were collared, not one of the calves made it to 1 year of age. Not one. This has been proven over multiple years of study. Also proven is that Coyotes are a major factor. Without intervention, the woodland caribou herds risk extinction. …Fact! In an effort to control the coyote population and get a better understanding of its habits, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has provided workshops on how to hunt the coyote. They also offer $25 for the carcass to be able to study DNA and stomach contents to better understand what it eats. Second, the statement that coyotes only prey on the sick and the dying is again scientifically untrue! They prey on what is the best opportunity which can be a fully healthy doe caribou stuck in deep snow or potentially a sick one on the barren. It doesn’t make a difference, just depends on the opportunity. As to the number of adult caribou taken I cannot say I have that scientific evidence and in fact may not be a major factor verses the killing of caribou calves. As to the statement “the 10-month coyote season and said when females are shot, no one thinks about their pups which may be dying a slow, miserable death somewhere”. Well, Mr. Wallace truly shows his absolute ignorance of the law and the species. The Coyote season is specifically closed during the Coyote “Pup” season hence the two months closure, to ensure the species can remain! I liken Mr. Wallaces’ comment to the seal controversy where they make claims that Newfoundlanders still club white coats, which by the way has not been done in over 30 years! May be we should show a caribou calf being ripped from her mother during birth! The calf bleating for help but none comes and then silence…..But no we won’t because those who are rational understand that even though this does happen, it is nature’s way. The fact is coyotes deserve to be respected and ethically treated. The population needs to be controlled for a multitude of reasons. Making outrageous, factually untrue claims like Mr. Wallace, does nothing for rational discussion.

    • Kent
      March 16, 2012 - 11:11

      Mr Get the Facts Straight....... For someone who claims to be so well-informed about the caribou decline , you seemed to have missed one of the more important facts in the decline; Brain worm.. It has been affecting the herd since the 1970's and caused quite a reduction in the population. It has a lot of the same symptoms as Mad Cow Disease and leaves the animal vulnerable to predators…. Like coyotes and wolves for example. So what you’re seeing is an affect, not a cause.. Furthermore, I don't regard coyotes or wolves as cute or cuddly; nor do I regard them a blood-thirsty people eaters. Frankly, I’d be more concerned about bits and attacks from domestic dogs and pit-bulls than I would fro a coyote or wolf attack. There s probably a dog attack every hour in this country and yet people here are worried about coyotes / wolves??? Get serious!. I'm about as concerned about the coyotes and wolves as I am about shark attacks. I’m beginning to think these anti-coyote posts are fueled by a few gun-happy clowns eager to justify ownership of a firearm by demonized an animal.

  • m
    March 16, 2012 - 07:37

    Just dont seem right to be killing animals for the sport of it, it be different if it was hanging around his back door or if he was going to eat it or something. But really what gives people the right to go into these animals homes and kill them, we are taking away there homes every day, the least we can do is give the animals they're space and let them be and if they become a nuisance then do something about it. Bears can be aggressive maybe we should shoot all of them too! People need to become aware and enjoy all that nature has givin to them.

  • Nancy
    March 16, 2012 - 07:32

    I am happy that this story is now at least showing something positive out of the killing of the animal. The end quotes are true. It is human nature to take something and blow it out of proportion when fear of safety drives it. I am still hoping that this animal shows DNA from the once thought NL wolf. Maybe... just maybe we haven't killed it to extinction.

  • Kent
    March 16, 2012 - 07:25

    The attention the story is getting has retired national parks worker Fred Wallace concerned.... “It’s being hyped up as the big, bad wolf,” he said Thursday. He said the coyotes are afraid of humans. “They are living in cities now.... They don’t steal kids. They don’t eat kids,” said Wallace said, adding dogs and cats are just small rabbits to them. And he said the caribou they take down are usually the older, sicker animals. ========================= Thank you Mr. Wallace for injecting the voice of reason to the knee-jerk moronic commentary of many of those who have posted on this topic the past several days.