Was Ultrarunning legend Dean Karnazes really attacked by a coyote?


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At around 3 a.m. on Saturday August 13, ultramarathon icon Dean Karnazes, 59, ran a headlamp alone 40 miles in the 150-mile Marin Headlands endurance race near San Francisco. , California, on the Golden Gate Bridge, when he was hit by something from behind.

Minutes later, stunned and with bloody lips, glassy eyes and an unsettling smile, Karnazes pulled out his phone and recorded the following 37-second video, which has since gone viral:

“I just had something pretty terrifying,” Karnazes said. “I’m on a 150 mile race track and I was attacked by a coyote. It was a first. Knocked me down. Luckily I was running with sticks so I hit him and he ran away. He then looks at the camera, a little dazed. “A little harsh.”

With a small laugh, he sniffles blood and looks around. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I guess I have to keep going or it will probably come back for me.” Another laugh.

Once posted on social media, comments started pouring in. Responses ranged from support (“Maniac! Be careful.” “You’re a Greek warrior!”) to medical advice (“Get your rabies shot!” “Tetanus shot, now!” ). Others thought it was apocryphal: (“He didn’t attack him. He lied. “Coyotes don’t attack humans. Probably some kind of cat.” “That’s fake blood. “)

Coyote attack or fall?

Granted, the resident coyotes of California’s Golden Gate Recreation Area have become increasingly habituated to humans, but the chances of a coyote jumping on a human are extremely rare. Park officials publicly addressed the alleged attack, saying in a Tweet, “We want to emphasize that the injuries shown were caused by a fall. The coyote did not bite the individual involved in this encounter.

RELATED: Everything Trail Runners Need to Know About Wildlife Safety

trail runner contacted Karnazes directly to find out more about the story.

“As I always said, including in my report to the park ranger, the coyote hit me from behind trying to snatch the energy bar I was eating. It didn’t jump out at me and I never claimed it was.

Wildlife attacks on trail runners are rare, but they do happen. However, coyotes are hardly a common culprit. There are only two recorded incidents of coyotes actually killing humans, in the world, one of which was a three-year-old child.

Photo: Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/Getty Images

But in recent years, there has been an increase in human encounters with coyotes, especially in areas called the “suburban-wilderness interface,” where human development is encroaching on undeveloped wild space. According to Outforiaa Norway-based outdoor research website, California has the second highest rate of wild animal attacks on humans in the United States after Texas, with 299 fatal attacks between 1999 and 2019, from after CDC data.

Feeding the coyotes only makes it worse

Karnazes’ encounter with the coyote occurred in an area on the northwest side of the Golden Gate Bridge, a notorious spot for people who feed the local coyotes.

“The coyote didn’t want me, he wanted food,” Karnazes said. “Looking back, it’s really not that shocking at all.” Following the incident, he continued to post updates on Facebook: “As I witnessed firsthand, people (mostly tourists) have been feeding wild coyotes in the Marin Headlands area of ​​California. This must stop. If you see someone feeding a coyote, say something. The local rangers are doing the best they can, but we trail runners are in these areas more than anyone.

Dan Flores is a New Mexico historian and author of ten books, including the New York Times Bestseller, coyote americaand told us that such coyote behavior seems unusual.

“My best guess would be that he got too close to a female coyote whose summer cubs are still young enough to inspire a strong protective response,” says Flores. “August would be too late in Marin for the pups to be around a den yet, but the still-young pups from this summer are with their parents and their packs right now.”

RELATED: Dean Karnazes is Still Inspired

Like us, coyotes are very individualistic. A hungry person could easily be attracted by the sound of squeaking shoes, thinking it’s a mouse, shares Flores. He referenced a recent story of a coyote stalking someone because their boots squeaked in the snow. The race itself can also invite a chase, “although, as a lifelong runner — most in coyote country — nothing like this has ever happened to me,” says Flores.

Wild animals just don’t care about us

Peter Alagona is a trail runner, environmental historian at UC Santa Barbara, and author of The Accidental Ecosystem: People and Wildlife in American Cities. It reminds us that even the scariest wild animals are, for the most part, quite passive towards people.

“The vast majority of so-called ‘wildlife attacks’ involve animals that are sick or injured, have come to associate humans with food, or are taken by surprise and acting defensively,” says Alagona. “Predatory attacks, except by a few species – such as crocodiles and tigers – are extraordinarily rare. If we don’t feed wild animals, give them space and respect them, they will reciprocate by providing us with ecological services, exciting times and profound insights.

But that doesn’t mean we as trail runners should let our guard down in wild spaces.

“Trail runners are at a slightly higher risk than most other people because we tend to move quickly and quietly, and therefore may find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of startling an animal, which may react by acting in a defensive,” says Alagona.

It wasn’t the first time the ultrarunning icon had come up against wildlife. “I was attacked by a shark and now a coyote,” Karnazes tweeted recently. “Both incidents were terrifying.” #animalattack #survivalmode

Photo: Aventura Pictures

An “attack” is more of a bite than a bark

It seems clear that the legendary ultrarunner was approached by an overly curious coyote accustomed to overly generous humans, perhaps protecting his young or perhaps interested in the food he had to share. Who knows.

BBut, technically, the coyote didn’t “attack” Karnazes.

According to a scientific article on wildlife attacks on humansthe very definition of an “attack” can be overused and under-examined in public discourse:

“We define a coyote offensive such as an incident between a coyote and a person that results in the victim being bitten. We recognize that this conservative definition may exclude aggressive incidents that did not result in a bite, but our experience is that non-bite incidents are difficult to interpret, especially when reported by a general public that is not familiar with the behavior of coyotes. In these cases, it is difficult to determine the intent of the coyote and the true threat to the human involved. By ranking only incidents resulting in the victim being bitten, we feel we are using the least subjective interpretation of events regarding the most extreme type of conflict between coyotes and humans.

The coyote didn’t bite Karnazes, but in his defense he never said it did. Karnazes did use the word “attack” in his story though, when the only thing technically “attacked” here was his unwrapped energy bar, which may have precipitated the incident.

When asked what type of energy bar, he declined to comment. He was too busy running.

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