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Feeding of Coyotes Fueled Bite of Child at Cape Cod National Seashore, Officials Say

Bill Byrne /
eastern coyote

A coyote bit a child on the north end of Herring Cove Beach on Wednesday, and officials say a history of people feeding coyotes on the beach is almost certainly to blame.

The bite — which sent the child to Cape Cod Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries — follows a coyote bite of a woman on Herring Cove Beach last year.

In the time Massachusetts has been recording coyote bites, only about 20 people have been bitten, said Dave Wattles, the state’s top biologist for fur-bearing animals.

“And now 10 percent of them have occurred on this beach in two years — a strong indication that it is the feeding of these coyotes that is causing them to be habituated to people, that's leading to these bites,” he said.

Two weeks ago, a coyote circled a woman on a different beach in Provincetown. Wattles said the behavior shows coyotes are associating people with the provision of food.

The latest bite happened at about 8:30 p.m. The beach in Provincetown is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and is popular for picnics and beach fires.

In addition to the intentional feeding of coyotes, discarding food on the beach contributes to the problem, said Leslie Reynolds, deputy superintendent of the National Seashore. Sources of discarded food include picnics and beach fires, plus fish heads and piles of fish guts from people fishing.

“When wildlife gets fed, their behaviors change and their behaviors become unpredictable and aggressive,” she said.

She said park rangers shot the coyote after the bite. They tracked the wounded animal in the dark for two hours without success and returned Thursday to locate the body.

It will be tested for rabies, though Wattles said habituation to humans is more likely the problem.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.