People are being urged to stay out of Stanley Park, Vancouver, as several more coyote attacks have led one expert to speculate that the animals could have ingested toxins or even drugs.
Over the summer there have been an unusually high number of coyote attacks within the park, with one victim as young as five. The latest attack took place on Monday, when a coyote approached two people having a picnic and proceeded to bite both of them on the leg. A male walker was bitten just a few days prior, and a female jogger the day before that.
As a result of the attacks, the Conservation Officer Service of British Columbia has issued several warnings asking visitors to be careful within the park, or better yet stay out of it altogether.
"The [Conservation Officer Service] continues to strongly urge the public to stay out of Stanley Park," the service wrote on Facebook. "If you are in the park use abundant caution, as there is a high risk of encountering an aggressive coyote – particularly during dawn or dusk hours, when coyotes tend to be more active."
Attacks of this kind are unusual. Though they have grown in number in recent years, they remain rare. One study documented 367 attacks on humans from 1977-2015 in the US and Canada. In Stanley Park, there have been over 30 in the last few months.
So, what has caused this increase? One expert put up a number of factors that likely contribute to the problem, one of which was drugs.
"The Stanley Park issue is more complicated than normal situations," coyote expert at the University of Calgary Dr Shelley Alexander told CTV News. "No one is the key cause here."
Several likely factors are involved, including the proximity coyotes are willing to get to humans thanks to being hand-fed or else given human food. One study analyzed 142 attacks and found that 30 percent of the incidents took place after intentional or accidental feeding by people near the attack site, a figure the authors suspected was lower than the true figure. Another factor was the displacement of the animals in recent months.
"By the homeless encampments, these animals have now been pushed out into fringe areas where they're more in contact with people and more likely to get into conflict," Alexander said.
However, the unusual attacks led her to speculate that there may be a more unusual contributing factor at play.
"The behavior of some of these individuals suggests they've ingested toxins and or drugs, possibly opioids. There's also some indication of possible abuse of these animals," she told CTV News.
"This is abnormal behavior that we're seeing but the key thing is here they've lost their bite inhibition and so this is no longer a situation that you could consider a co-existence scenario."
Alexander, like the Conservation Officer Service, recommends staying out of the area while the attacks continue.