Province tests DNA of 82-pound coyote

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on March 15, 2012

Update:

Joe Fleming was astonished when he saw huge coyote tracks on the Bonavista Peninsula two months ago, but he was even more stunned when he weighed the beast at 82 pounds after he shot it this week.

“I haven’t seen anything like it before. I haven’t seen a track like it before. … I’ve been hunting for a long time and this is the biggest one I’ve seen. The biggest one I’ve weighed,” Fleming told The Telegram Wednesday.

While some people are incredulous the animal is, in fact, a coyote, although it looks wolf-like in photos. Fleming said wildlife officials he brought it to in Clarenville believe it is, but there will be a further investigation.

A short story  on the beast burned up The Telegram website Wednesday with more than 30,000 hits and 80 comments by suppertime.

Some objected to interfering with nature by shooting coyotes. Others noted the livestock and pets that have been lost since the predators became prevalent.

“Much rather the coyote dead than somebody’s animals or kids,” wrote one reader.

“I know our safety must come first, however, is the killing of this coyote the only option on the table?” asked another.

The Spillars Cove crab fisherman and avid coyote tracker shot the animal between Bonavista and Port Rexton on a pole line adjacent a series of marshes.

It was close to an area where he often hunts partridge with his English setter and he’s thinking twice about that now.

“And I am sure if my dog came across that, it  would kill my dog. It was just massive.. It’s teeth were huge and its feet were huge,” Fleming said.

“It would have no problem taking down a small moose ... Probably this one could take a family member.”

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. The species has been blamed for killing animals on the island, such as caribou and young moose.

The province offers a coyote carcass registration reward of $25 as an incentive to gain access to carcasses to assist with biological investigation of the species. This includes carcass evaluation to assess their diets.

Environment and Conservation Minister Terry French was wondering 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.

“It really is an anomaly,” French said, noting most coyotes are 30-35 pounds. “It’s so out of character … It really is too early to tell.”

French said DNA samples from the carcass will be tested.

The fur from the coyote will be tanned in Montreal, stuffed and displayed at the Outdoor Supply Store in Lewisporte with Fleming’s name on it. The store has a contest on which includes the biggest coyote bagged and Fleming is 30 pounds ahead of the competition.

“I’m six-foot, 240 pounds and that’s putting it moderate and my hand could fit in its paw track,” said Fleming, who has tracked several and shot three since he began hunting coyotes six years ago. He loves the challenge of tracking the animals.

When he first saw the gigantic tracks, Fleming thought perhaps it was a lynx, but then noticed much smaller coyote tracks travelling with the big animal.

“And if it was a wolf, I don’t see another coyote travelling with it,” Fleming said. “This one made the other one look like a puppy.”

Fleming said the area is one that people snowmobile and go trouting in, as well as partridge hunting. There’s also lots of partridge berries and bakeapples for picking during their seasons.

He said people should be aware of the coyote potential and carry some protection, and suggested anyone would bolt if they saw such a brute.

“If I didn’t have a rifle with me, I probably would have run away, too,” Fleming said. “If I didn’t have the rifle with me, I would be kind of worried.”

Fleming, who has been hunting since he was 13,  uses an electronic device for calling the coyotes. The decoy mimics a male coyote moving into is territory.

When he spotted the coyote Monday, it was in a fight posture.

“I could see his teeth and his back arched even though he was a long ways off. I could see it through the scope on my rifle and I knew he thought he was coming in to fight with another coyote. I guess he was angry,” Fleming said.

“When he got about 180 yards from me, I knew he got my wind. He could smell me in the tree line. He turned to run. And when he turned to run, I made a bark at him. That’s what you are supposed to do to stop him.”

The coyote was 200 yards away when Fleming shot him. When he got up to the dead animal, he called his brother and a friend to help take it out of the woods.

“I could not believe my eyes. I knew it was big, but when I got close to it and realized the sheer size of it, I was amazed,” Fleming said.

His wife Tracy and five-year-old son, Daniel were excited when Fleming got home. Both also love hunting. And he had a steady stream of visitors to his shed Monday night until he finally locked up at 11 p.m.

“A lot of the local trappers they didn’t really believe it when they heard it, so they had to come see it for themselves,” Fleming said.

Ewen Whiteway of the Outdoor Supply Store, was also skeptical when Fleming phoned him, until it was brought to the store and weighed in at between 81-83 pounds.

“Man it was a giant. It was something like on steroids,” he said. “It might have wolf into him.”

Whiteway said the largest coyote previously brought in for the contest weighed 52 pounds. The contest, which also awards prizes for the most coyotes and includes a random draw, ends when the 10-month season closes in July. The prize for the largest coyote is a rifle and scope.

A taxidermist, Whiteway said he’ll display Fleming’s coyote with the other mounts in his store. It’s being sent to a professional tanner and should be ready for viewing by fall.

Whiteway has a cabin in central Newfoundland and was moose hunting after Christmas. After a new snowfall, there were coyote tracks everywhere.

“The full country was covered,” he said, advising people be on the watch.

“They’re the next thing to a wolf. When they want something to eat, they don’t care what it is.”

French said the public needn’t panic even though the coyote revelation is the second in a week. A much smaller coyote was spotted outside a Paradise school this week.

“It’s unfortunate to some degree coyotes are here to stay,” French said. “I don’t say that lightly.”

But he noted wildlife officials are tracking coyotes through a caribou study — 50 have been collared and that will provide some information on their range and eating habit, as well as size.

But French said for the most part coyotes will bolt when they see a human and added people should make noise — carry a whistle, chat, beat the bushes, hum a favourite tune —  when they are travelling on hiking trails and in the wilderness, and not leave scraps, garbage and pet food out around their properties and of course, don’t leave pets unattended.

“We have to be aware of it. I don’t think there’s any need to alarm people,” he said.

Last year, some 1,100 dead coyotes were submitted for the $25 carcass registration reward.

In 2009, a folk singer from Toronto died after being attacked by two coyotes while hiking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia.

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CLARENVILLE — A hunter has shot what is believed to be one of the biggest coyotes ever recorded in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Joe Fleming of Spillars Cove, near Bonavista, shot the animal near Half Way Pond on the Bonavista Peninsula on Monday after tracking it for about a month.

The coyote was double the size of regular large coyotes. It weighed in at 37 kilograms.

“I’ve been hunting a long time. This is the biggest one I’ve seen, the biggest one I’ve weighed,” Fleming, a crab fisherman, told The Telegram.

When he first saw the tracks a couple months ago, Fleming said he thought it was a lynx and hoped it wasn’t trailing him to jump him.

But then he realized there was a small coyote travelling with the animal.

Some people have commented the animal is more like a wolf, than a coyote. But Fleming said wildlife officials are convinced it’s a coyote, adding officials have taken blood and hair samples.

More in Thursday’s Telegram.

Fleming brought the carcass to wildlife officials in Clarenville and says DNA and blood samples have been taken in an attempt to determine why this particular animal was so large.

He says he knew the carcass had to be preserved so he took it to an outdoor supply store in Lewisporte where it will go on display once it is mounted.