A coyote walks through the snow in Alberta.
Credits: DAVID BLOOM EDMONTON SUN QMI AGENCY
Run by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in conjunction with the city, the study conducted by two PhD students and one Master of Sciences student was supposed to see 10 coyotes captured using five traps in Nose Hill, Fish Creek ad Bowmont parks and fitted with a GPS collar so their movements could be tracked.
Researchers were hoping to collect coyote feces in an effort to better understand their movements and diets in the parks and how they spread parasites, said study head Alessandro Massolo, assistant professor of wildlife health ecology at the U of C.
“If it has any infection, we can understand if that is coming from a specific diet,” he said.
Part of the study also involves collecting feces samples from pet owners using the park -- 6,000 cards requesting samples were issued in July -- to see if there is cross contamination between dogs and coyotes.
“We have 120,000 dogs in our city and have a few hundred coyotes so we want to understand if there’s any transmission between them,” Massolo said.
Along with being set up away from major trails in an on-leash area, the traps used were toothless and don’t hurt the animals, Massolo said.
“You can put your hand in it and it’s not going to damage your tissue or your bone at all,” he said.
“When you have to manage wild populations, you need to know them first.
“You know what they do elsewhere? They just kill them.”
Cameras are set up at each trap, immediately notifying the team when an animal is caught.
Within an hour, researchers and veterinary students arrive to take hair and other samples from the coyote before fitting it with a GPS tracker and releasing it, which usually takes about 30 minutes, Massolo said.
The study sparked a backlash that began online Thursday evening -- the first day of the study -- after a dog got caught in one of the traps in Nose Hill Park, leading to posts on social media websites and calls to the city’s 311 system.
The parks department, in consultation with university officials, decided to halt the live-capture component.
“We want to make sure it’s done safely and appropriately both for the animals and for park users and for the park itself,” said Chris Manderson, natural area management lead with the parks department.
“It was pretty clear once they started the work and the public became aware of it, there were a lot of concerns that came out that needed to be answered better and more clearly.”
Dog trainer Jade Robertson, who takes her pooches to Nose Hill Park daily, said she understands the need for the study, but was unnerved by what she saw as a lack of signage around the traps.
“Traps are hazardous to animals and people so it’s kind of a big deal,” she said.
“The study is altruistic but it wouldn’t be very hard for a kid to get stuck in one.
“I don’t think (foot) traps should be in the area during park hours.”
Massolo pointed out the traps were only active from dusk until dawn and had protective covers placed overtop during the day so they couldn’t be set off.
Manderson expects the live capture portion of the study will continue.
“We’re expecting to have a good talk about this and figure out how to do it,” he said.
“Certainly, parks’ interest is to see this sort of research continue.”