Documentary says coywolves found in Cape Breton

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SYDNEY — A documentary called “Meet the Coywolf” says an animal that is part coyote and part wolf can now be found from urban areas like Toronto to the Cape Breton highlands.

The eastern coyote or coywolf? A documentary examines the wily animal that can be found in Cape Breton and other parts of the country.

Filmed partly in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the documentary includes a reference to the fatal attack on the Skyline Trail in 2009 on a young Toronto woman, Taylor Mitchell, which raised speculation about the existence of the coywolf.

Director and producer Susan Fleming said the animal known as the eastern coyote, which is larger than the western variety, is in fact synonymous with a coywolf.

Eastern coyotes , the variety found in Cape Breton, are genetically distinct, she said.

“They are not a western coyote or an eastern wolf, they are a new creature, a hybrid that is a product of coyotes and wolves interbreeding. This hybrid creature goes by the name eastern coyote but also by the name coywolf.

“Coywolf is a newer term and, in some ways, may be more accurate in that it describes what the animal is, this hybrid and the product of a coyote and a wolf, rather than where it comes from, which is the east.”

Larger than a coyote, the coywolf has longer legs, bigger paws, larger jaws and a more wolf-life tail, the documentary says.

Geneticist Bradley White says in the documentary the first evidence of the new species is found in Algonquin Park in northern Ontario.

The geneticist pinpoints the birth of the coywolf to 1919, saying eastern wolves, driven to seek refuge from persecution by people, began to look upon coyotes, which had been their natural enemies, as possible mates.

John Benson, who is identified in the documentary as a PhD candidate in biology, says over a third of the animals in the Ontario park are hybrids between coyotes and wolves.

Fleming says the hybrids spread from there.

Coywolves can also be found in big cities like Toronto, the film says.

“Most likely animals that are in, say Nova Scotia and Cape Breton now, are hybrids of hybrids, but they still have some wolf and coyote in them,” she said. “So they are still eastern coyotes or, if you want to use the term, coywolves. Some people call them one, some people call them another. It doesn’t matter. They are the same thing. They are a hybrid.”

The fatal attack on Taylor Mitchell led to speculation in Cape Breton about the existence of coywolves.

Don Anderson, a biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, sounded skeptical, telling the Cape Breton Post he hasn't seen anything to indicate that the species in Cape Breton is a so-called coywolf.

“I can't say that there aren’t some out there that are hybrids with dogs, or wolves for that matter, but I don't think the whole population is based on that,” he said at that time.

Simon Gadbois, a researcher at Dalhousie University’s canid research laboratory, told The Post in 2009 that coyotes found in Cape Breton would likely be from a population that emigrated east and are, therefore, partial hybrids, meaning that a part of their genome is from wolf stock.

“When we say coywolf, people think of a 50-50 mix,” he told the Post. “It is reasonable to assume that our eastern coyotes are indeed more coyotes than wolves. But because of the genetic similarities between wolves, coyotes and dogs, it is not easy to determine through molecular genetic means, or through the traditional morphology and anatomy markers.”

Gadbois is also featured in the documentary studying the animals in Cape Breton’s “vast and rugged landscape.”

“Meet the Coywolf” will air on CBC’s “The Nature of Things” on Thursday and on the PBS show “Nature” later this year.

Fleming is an independent filmmaker whose documentaries include “Animal Odd Couples,” looking at whether animals can form friendships, “Raccoon Nation,” which looks at how city life is changing raccoons, and “A Murder of Crows,” which studies one of nature’s more intelligent birds.

Her films have aired on the CBC and PBS.

Organizations: CBC, Department of Natural Resources, Cape Breton Post Dalhousie University The Post

Geographic location: Cape Breton, Toronto, Cape Breton Highlands National Park Algonquin Park Northern Ontario.The Ontario Nova Scotia

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