Massive coyote stirring widespread debate

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on March 16, 2012
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.

 

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