The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project



  Taylor Mitchell Attack  



  • The Taylor Mitchell Attack

  •  Brief Overview 

The Taylor Mitchell Attack

On October 27th, 2009, a woman was attacked by eastern coyotes while hiking on a trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia.  This is the first and, so far, only case of an adult human fatality as a result of a coyote attack.

Taylor Mitchell was a 19-year-old aspiring musician from Toronto, Ontario, on a tour to promote her first CD.

She was hiking alone on the Skyline Trail and there were no witnesses to the attack, but there were witnesses that saw Taylor and the coyotes prior to, and following, the attack.



The Skyline Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park, easily accessible and experiences 20,000 to 25,000 visitors annually.  Coyotes arrived on Cape Breton Island in 1978 and following their arrival, deer were depleted by the late 1980′s.

During June 2010, I was invited by National Geographic to visit the sites and interview the people involved with the incident, in an attempt to determine why the attack occurred. 

Our work was done in close collaboration with Taylor Mitchellís mother, Emily.  Indeed, some of the witnesses had not talked about their experience in any great detail out of respect for Emily, and they spoke to us only after Emily asked them to do so.   National Geographic either took me to meet with the subjects or they actually arranged to have some come to Nova Scotia for interviews.


Brief Overview

Details of this work will be reported elsewhere, and when it becomes available we will post it here.  However, here is a brief overview of what we know.

Taylor arrived at the Skyline Trail parking lot on the afternoon of October 27, 2009, dressed appropriately for the cold weather, wearing no backpack and carrying no food.  Taylor was attacked in the middle of that afternoon by at least two coyotes, and possibly more.  She was found by four hikers a short time following the attack.  The hikers had to scare coyotes away from her, and she was critically wounded.




Despite the tremendous efforts by medical teams, she passed away later that evening.  Removal efforts were undertaken by Parks Canada immediately following the incident and 6 coyotes were collected at the scene or during the following weeks.

Two of the coyotes were positively linked to the scene, and another was indirectly linked.  All coyotes were necropsied and genetically tested.  Necropsy results indicate no evidence of disease, coyotes were in excellent physical condition, and natural foods were in their gastrointestinal tract. 

Evidence at the scene and her injuries strongly suggest this was a predatory event.  There was no evidence of food provisioning prior to the attack, but for some unknown reason these coyotes altered their behavior to a lack of fear toward people.  There were no reports of problems with coyotes in the park earlier (although there had been some conflicts in previous years).  The coyotes were extremely healthy, so disease or physical condition were not factors.

Genetic analysis confirmed that these were eastern coyotes, meaning that they were actually a type of coyote-wolf hybrid.  Some lines of evidence suggest that eastern coyotes are more likely to hunt in packs, and are therefore more likely to kill and consume larger prey, when compared to typical coyotes.  To what extent this genetic variant played a role in the Taylor Mitchell incident is unknown.  There is no evidence yet that eastern coyotes are more aggressive than typical coyotes.  Parks Canada has initiated intensive research projects to hopefully identify what led to the change in coyote behavior, and to evaluate the effectiveness of different management strategies.

At this point, we do not know if this attack was an isolated event that is unlikely to ever happen again, or if there is a risk to be concerned with.

Emily Mitchell has created a foundation in Taylorís name, that people can contribute to:




The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project

The Ohio State University