Herald vs. coyotes

Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim is the title of a 1980 compendium of unintended double-entendre headlines collected by the Columbia Journalism Review. It illustrates the power of tiny punctuation flubs — in this case, a missing hyphen — to radically alter meaning. Readers also have to chuckle in wonderment over how small a town must be for the local newspaper to deem dog bites newsworthy.

When the dog is a coyote, however, and the person bitten is a 16-year-old girl in a National Park where a 19-year-old woman was killed by coyotes 10 months ago, there’s no doubt about newsworthiness. Still, consider how differently two daily newspapers reported the story:

Coyote bites sleeping teen in head,” was the Cape Breton Post‘s accurate but subdued headline.

INGONISH — A teenage girl was bitten by a coyote early Monday morning in the same national park in Cape Breton where a woman was killed by the animals last year.

Coyote attacks girl in Highlands,” screamed the Halifax Chronicle-Herald in a headline that spanned the top of page one.

A second vicious coyote attack on a visitor at Cape Breton Highlands National Park prompted park wardens to start setting traps early Monday morning.

Source: Halifax Chronicle-Herald
Source: Halifax Chronicle-Herald

A photo of a sinister, prowling coyote illustrated the Herald story, together with a graphic showing a second coyote posing triumphantly astride a map of the Cape Breton Highlands. Lines connected the posing coyote to the sites of the two incidents, which took place 40 kilometres apart, separated by the least hospitable terrain in the Maritimes.

The two stories, both written by competent, journeymen reporters, agreed on the relatively benign facts of the case — a couple of bites to the back of the head, requiring a few stitches at outpatients. The Post’s overall treatment of the event was consistent with these facts. The Herald, by contrast, contrived to hype the story and frighten readers with lurid adjectives, illustrations, and headlines. I’m curious to know whether the unwarranted “vicious” was composed by the reporter, or added later by the desk.

The Herald has long had an outsized appetite for bad news from Cape Breton. Whether staff reductions have contributed to its recent drift into sensationalism (see examples here, here, here, and here) is a topic for another day. For now, it’s enough to point out the striking differences in the two papers’ treatment of a coyote bite.

Hat tip: SP.

A shocking coywolf attack in Cape Breton – updated

Skyline Trail-sA very sad update: The woman attacked by two coywolves succumbed to her injuries overnight. Deepest sympathy to her family and friends for their unimaginable loss.

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The shocking news that a 19-year-old Toronto-area woman was attacked and “very, very seriously” injured by a pair of coyotes in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park this afternoon will undoubtedly focus attention on recent reports that Eastern Coyotes are in fact a hybrid of coyotes and wolves, or coywolves.

We offer heartfelt hopes for a speedy and complete recovery for the unidentified woman, who was hiking on the popular and well used Skyline Trail north of Cheticamp—a trail Contrarian has often hiked with family and friends. The injured woman has been airlifted to Halifax, where she is in critical condition. RCMP officers who happened to be nearby came to her assistance. They shot and apparently wounded one of the animals; however both escaped into the woods.

CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks recently interviewed Dr. Roland Kays, Curator of Mammals at New York State Museum, about genetic testing he carried out on coyotes in that state, indicating that, as they moved east, coyotes interbred with remnant wolf populations:

Coyotes are a newcomer to Nova Scotia, the earliest confirmed specimin having been taken in Guysborough in 1977. The 30- to 50-pound Eastern Coyote is larger and darker than its western cousin, and typically occupies woodlands, not the grassy habitat favored by pure coyotes.

Coywolf-csKays found that the head and jaw of the coywolf are better adapted for taking down the white tailed deer that flourish here. In effect, as the coyote took over the wolf’s ecological niche in eastern North America, it became part-wolf.

The Knight Science Journalism Tracker has links to more stories about the coywolf, including articles from AAAS Science Now, Discovery, and Scientific American.

Canadian Press quotes Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources spokesman Don Anderson as saying a young Ontario girl was bitten several years ago on the Skyline Trail. “That coyote was put down and sent away for testing and it came back negative for rabies or anything like that,” he said.

Hat tip: SP.