HALIFAX — Staff at a national park in Cape Breton will continue to trap and kill aggressive coyotes after two attacks within 10 months, but Parks Canada remains reluctant to follow Nova Scotia’s example by calling for a widespread cull.
A spokesman for the agency confirmed Tuesday that culls of other animals have been approved in other national parks, but he stressed that such an extreme measure probably wouldn’t work in the sprawling Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
"It’s something that’s done in exceptional circumstances when other measures don’t work," Derek Quann, the park’s resource conservation manager, said in an interview.
"We haven’t been thinking in those terms because it doesn’t seem to be a really appropriate or effective path to pursue."
Quann said studies show coyote culls are ineffective because the animals have the ability to reproduce at a rapid rate even when their population is under stress.
"In the case of coyotes, they have an amazing reproductive capacity to do that," he said. "Our efforts will be focused on applying adverse conditioning techniques."
Quann said park staff have found that the use of loud air horns and pepper spray has been effective in deterring the park’s coyotes from getting too familiar with visitors.
Hunting and trapping is not allowed in the federal park.
In April, Nova Scotia’s natural resources minister approved a controversial program to offer trappers a $20 bounty for each coyote pelt they bring in, starting in October.
At the time, John MacDonell said he wouldn’t mind if trappers eliminated half of the province’s estimated 8,000 coyotes by next spring.
On Tuesday, MacDonell said he’s concerned about the welfare of all Nova Scotians who venture into the wild, but it’s up to Parks Canada to decide what to do about coyotes inside its parks.
"It’s a big policy decision," he said in an interview. "It’s Parks Canada’s call as far as we’re concerned."
MacDonell said his department’s biologists have studies that show increased trapping can make coyotes more wary of human encounters, based on the idea that the yelps of trapped coyotes transmit a clear warning to the rest of the pack.
Coyote encounters in Nova Scotia became a hot-button issue last October when a young Toronto woman, singer Taylor Mitchell, was mauled to death while hiking alone on a popular trail in the park.
It was the first recorded fatal coyote attack in Nova Scotia, and only the second ever in North America. The first came in 1981 when a toddler was killed in California.
There have been many recorded coyote encounters across the province since then, but no one had been injured — until Monday.
In the pre-dawn, an unidentified 16-year-old Nova Scotia girl was bitten twice on the top of her head as she slept outside at one of the park’s campgrounds. Her parents were in a tent only metres away.
The girl needed stitches to close her scalp wounds.
Traps have been set for the coyote, but there were no sightings as of Tuesday afternoon, Quann said.
The attack occurred about 30 kilometres from where Mitchell was fatally mauled.
The province and the park have each set traps to target nuisance animals, and they’ve both established education programs to teach people how to deal with coyote encounters, which include instructions on how to appear large and make loud noises.
The province has also hired a wildlife biologist to deal with "human-wildlife conflicts," and it is in the process of training 15 trappers to specialize in tracking coyotes.