You might have read the very alarming news articles about a father in New Hampshire who strangled a coyote to death when it attacked his two-year-old. For Fox Sake commends this incredible dad for his strength and bravery in the face of such a terrifying incident.
Preying on humans is not normal behavior for a coyote. They are naturally extremely fearful, shy animals and there have only been two human deaths caused by coyotes in all of history. (Compare that to fifty each year in the U.S. caused by dogs.)
That’s why we weren’t surprised to hear that the coyote involved in this incident tested positive for rabies. Rabies often (but not always) makes animals unnaturally aggressive and fearless as the virus rages through the central nervous system.
In case you’re panicked about news involving rabid coyotes, we’d like to help calm fears by putting this risk in perspective.
In the 1990s, the strain of rabies seen most often in wolves, dogs, and coyotes was declared eradicated from the United States thanks to the rabies vaccine. While any mammal can get any strain of rabies, coyotes with other strains of rabies don’t live long and don’t “carry” the active virus without symptoms. There are no packs of rabid coyotes or rabid dogs in the U.S., and there haven’t been for decades.
The CDC, USDA, and state governments collect data on confirmed rabies cases all over the country. Bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and feral cats are consistently among the most common victims of rabies (though these cases are still relatively few). Coyotes rank at the very bottom of the statistical list, near rabbits and beavers and behind cattle and deer.
Any case of rabies is undoubtedly terrifying, but one rare, freak incident is not a reason to be fearful of an entire species that generally coexists with humans without incident. If you do see a coyote that appears sick or unnaturally aggressive, please don’t hesitate to contact authorities, but don’t rush to kill healthy animals simply because they’re the same species as an individual that got sick.