When animals lose fear

Your parents want you to be safe. They will try to make sure you don’t put yourself in danger.

Coyote parents are the same. They don’t want their pups to do unsafe things.

But life can be hard when you are a wild animal, and sometimes it is difficult to find something to eat. So a coyote parent may be bolder and take a risk to get a meal. They may even get close to a human.

In national parks like Yellowstone or Glacier, where wildlife may see a lot of people, they call it habituation when animals lose their natural fear of humans. Park managers don’t like it when animals become habituated because they may connect humans with food, which can lead to trouble. Nobody wants a coyote running up to you and stealing your sandwich. That’s dangerous for the coyote and you.

Some scientists found out through a study that although coyotes may be fearful of humans at first, they can learn to be brave if it means getting a meal. They also found that the parents can somehow pass that courage on to their pups.

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So while a coyote may be scared of getting close to a human for a meal the first time, once they get the food and there’s no problem they will be less and less afraid as time goes on. The coyote pups watch and learn from their parents.

The next year when the coyotes had pups again, those children were even more brave than the bravest of the pups from the year before.

Hair samples taken from the coyotes showed that they were fearful of the humans close by, but ignored that fear to get the food.

That's why park officials will sometimes try to scare away animals that get too close to humans. They may shoot shells that pop loudly like a firecracker, blast their sirens or shoot rubber bullets at the animals so they fear humans.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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