Animals

Roslindale woman spots a coyote feasting on a critter in the Arnold Arboretum

The chance of an actual coyote attack on humans is very low.

Grace Holley was walking in the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University when she encountered an eastern coyote eating a meal.

Lilacs, bonsais, azaleas, magnolias — Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum is a local jewel showcasing a cornucopia of diverse flora. But Grace Holley was reminded Tuesday that the Jamaica Plain and Roslindale preserve hosts some unique fauna as well.

After sharing footage of her encounter with a large coyote in the arboretum on Twitter, Holley told The Boston Globe that she was snowshoeing with her friend and her dog when she saw the carnivorous canine about 20 feet away. It seemed to be ravenously tucking into a dinner of raw rabbit, but with teeth bared, it started stepping toward the Roslindale resident and her crew once it noticed them.

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“I was just like, ‘Holy moly, that thing is massive,’” Holley told the Globe. “It was just very surreal because it was both stunning how gorgeous it was, it was just a gorgeous animal. But it was also completely terrifying.”

She backed away slowly, loudly singing “Fee-fi-fo-fum” to spook the critter and get some distance to safely get back on the trail. The arboretum reassured that Holley did the right thing in a reply to her Twitter post.

“While it’s rare to see a coyote in the Arboretum, and even rarer that one would stick around once it noticed you, it can be unnerving to encounter a large animal and your instincts were correct in how to respond,” the arboretum said.

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A hungry coyote might be an alarming sight, but they’re not necessarily dangerous. There have been very few attacks on humans in Massachusetts in the last 60 years and they generally avoid people at all costs. Coyotes can also see larger dogs as potential competition, so it may have been more aggressive than usual because of Holley’s golden retriever.

“It wasn’t coming to eat us, I don’t think,” Holley said. “It was trying to say, ‘I am trying to eat my dinner and you should probably leave me alone.’”

There’s not much to worry about if you hear coyotes howling in your neighborhood, either. They’re just trying to look for a mate or for family members in their territory, or they’re warning other coyotes to stay away, says the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

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If you encounter a coyote and it hasn’t immediately run off, the MSPCA suggests backing away, making loud noises, and calmly leaving the area without running. Make sure to keep your trash secure and remove other food sources, keep small pets supervised when they’re outdoors, and avoid touching or feeding wild animals.

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