Understanding the human dimensions of human-coyote conflicts in metropolitan areas has taken on greater importance as coyotes (Canis latrans) have established themselves as the top predator in many urban ecosystems across North America. Though uncommon, coyote attacks on humans do occur in metropolitan areas and often receive widespread media coverage. Little research has been done to clarify how media coverage of these uncommon events may influence urban residents’ attitudes toward coyotes. In 2010, two children in Westchester County, New York, were injured in coyote attacks. In fall 2010 and winter 2011, the authors replicated a 2006 telephone survey in two areas of Westchester County, to assess possible changes in residents’ coyote-related experiences, attitudes, and risk perceptions. We documented a substantial, short-term increase in local newspaper coverage about coyotes immediately after the attack. Over 90% of local residents were aware of July 2010 attacks and nearly all residents with awareness reported exposure to media coverage of the attacks (supporting the hypothesis that such media coverage can have an agenda-setting effect). In comparison to 2006 levels, we documented an increase in concern about problems coyotes may cause, concern about coyote-related safety threats to children, and a decline in the proportion of local residents who believed that coyote-related risk to children was acceptably low. The 2006-2010 data comparisons provide support for a media framing hypothesis (i.e., that exposure to media coverage about the attacks made thoughts of human safety more salient, contributing to at least a short-term influence on concern about coyotes). Yet, in early 2011, months after local media coverage of coyotes had returned to background levels, concern about coyotes and coyote-related threats to children remained significantly higher than 2006 levels (i.e., effects continued after media priming ceased). This result suggests that factors other than media priming are needed to explain elevated levels of concern. We hypothesize that awareness of a new impact associated with coyotes (i.e., safety risk to children) may have driven change in resident’s perceptions of coyote-related risk and tolerance for coyote presence. Findings suggest that interventionists with interests in promoting wildlife conservation in urban ecosystems have a window of opportunity in which coyote-related messages may be attended to by local residents. Through efforts to enhance self-efficacy and teach residents how they can reduce the likelihood of a negative interaction with coyotes, interventionists can help human residents learn to live with this mesopredator in urban ecosystems.

Westchester study area 10_31_08.jpg (418 kB)
Westchester County townships designated as sampling areas for the 2006, 2010 and 2011 Westchester County resident telephone surveys.