Coyotes are found in many, if not most, of America's national parks. When programs to eradicate large predators thrived in the early-1900s, coyotes proved wily and were rarely eradicated, unlike larger predators like grizzly bears and wolves. Today, they live across most of North and Central
Usually, coyotes are content to remain wild and apart from people. However, they are often fed by visitors to the national parks. When this happens, the coyotes become accustomed to people and begin to seek out people (and the food they associate with those people). Because of the potential for a human injury when this happens, the coyotes who are fed by people often have to be destroyed so they do not injure anyone.
Rarely does a coyote attack a human without some provocation or temptation. However, at Yellowstone National Park, that seems to be exactly what happened this week. A coyote attacked a woman from behind while she was cross country skiing in the park.
“She was just skiing alone and it came up behind her, so she did not see it before it bit her in the arm," park spokesperson Linda Veress said Wednesday afternoon.
After the incident park staff temporarily closed the road, then tracked and killed the coyote and sent it for tests. The animal had a number of porcupine quills in its mouth and appeared underweight, park staff said.
“Encounters like these are rare, but they can happen. We suspect this coyote may have been starving due to having porcupine quills in its lower jaw and inside its mouth. Its young age likely led to its poor condition and irregular behavior,” said Yellowstone wildlife biologist Doug Smith.
This incident seems to be an outlier, as coyotes are not known to regularly attack people. However, it serves as a good reminder that these animals, like all the animals you encounter in national parks, are wild animals and you should give them plenty of space if you encounter them while visiting.