The body of a coyote that bit an eight-year-old Oakville girl on Thursday is being tested for rabies, according to the Oakville and Milton Humane Society.
"That's the basic protocol because it was very unusual behaviour," Brenda Dushko, spokesperson for the OMHS, said.
Ms. Dushko explained a portion of the adult female coyote's body has been removed and sent for testing at the Canadian Food Inspections Agency and they are now awaiting results. The humane society has inspected the body, but said the coyote appeared to be in good health.
Police shot and killed the coyote on Thursday after a coyote jumped the fence of a backyard and bit eight-year-old Julia Couto. Though the girl was not seriously injured, she is receiving treatment for rabies.
Ms. Dushko said police aren't completely sure if the coyote they killed was the one who bit Julia, but it's likely to be the same animal.
Earlier this week, two small dogs were attacked and killed by coyotes on separate occasions. She said the humane society is asking the public to keep an eye out, especially if they have small pets.
"We're also recommending to people to be vigilant, to be careful walking their dogs if they have small animals, to be aware and keep them safe," she said.
"We're taking it very seriously."
Brent Patterson, a research scientist with the Ministry of Natural Resources, said the reason behind the recent increase in human-coyote encounters is a lack of food.
"Food drives most aspects of the life of a coyote," he explained. "I think there are some coyotes in that area that are probably a little hungrier than they would be in a normal winter."
While the ministry doesn't have exact numbers for coyote populations, they record sightings by deer hunters to get a general idea of where coyotes are living. In 2008, when most coyote populations were levelling off or declining, coyote numbers in the GTA continued to rise, he said.
When numbers get too high, they start to run out of food sources. Combined with a mild winter, when rabbits and other prey are better-fed and more energetic, it's more difficult for the coyotes to find food. As a result, the animals begin to get a little desperate and go out of their comfort zone to hunt.
"[They're]definitely more bold," Mr. Patterson said, but noted it's unlikely the coyote that bit Julia Couto thought the child was food.
"It was curious, but I think if the coyote was determined to take her as prey that the extent of injuries would have been much more serious."
Tips for keeping coyotes at bay:
•Clear your yard of pet food, garbage, compost, even leftover vegetables in the garden – hungry coyotes will come looking for just about anything they can smell.
•Get rid of thick bushes or weeds where coyotes can hide at the edge of your yard. This will discourage them from approaching the area.
•Close off spaces underneath decks and sheds.
•Install motion-sensor lights to scare off coyotes that enter your yard.
•Don't leave small dogs or cats outside unattended.