April 20, 2012
Coyote Hysteria: How Media Coverage Stirs Up Fears
Inflammatory language unfairly demonizes coyotes
by Karen E. Lange
Coyote attacks are rare, says researcher Stanley Gehrt. In a 2009 paper, he and The HSUS’s Lynsey White Dasher also found that many attacks are not predatory. Coyotes may be defending pups, they may feel cornered, or they may bite people who are protecting pets coyotes view as prey. Sometimes coyotes used to getting food from humans bite people merely because they’re expecting something to eat, as a poorly behaved pet dog might. Sometimes they bite humans sleeping outside or sunbathing—it’s not clear why.
But sensationalized headlines and news reports often paint a different picture. A 2011 University of Calgary study examined Canadian news reports of coyote interactions with people and pets from 1998 to 2008. Inflammatory language used to describe coyotes included “marauding,” “attacking everything that moves,” and “a death machine.”
People are far more likely to be bitten or killed by domestic dogs than coyotes: 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year versus fewer than a dozen on average by coyotes. A person’s chance of even seeing a coyote is very low. But you wouldn’t know that from news reports.
“It’s a risk perception, and it’s not managed well, thanks to the media,” says Aurora, Colo., lead naturalist Mary Ann Bonnell. “The media fans the flames.”