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A Wily Survivor

Whether dodging ecological pressures or the viewfinder, coyotes elude predators and filmmakers alike. They are exceptionally challenging animals to capture on film, says documentary field producer Tadzio Richards. "It’s not simply that they’re wild animals — they’re also shifty animals that emerge and move into your view. You turn a corner, and suddenly there they are."Richards spent three months filming coyotes for the CG Presents documentary "Shapeshifter," which traces the path of North America’s "top dog" from the urban parks of Vancouver to the valleys of Yellowstone National Park and to its surprising appearance on Prince Edward Island.

Likely unknown on Prince Edward Island until the late 1970s, the first coyote was caught in a fox snare near Souris, P.E.I., in 1983. Biologists aren’t certain how the wild dogs ended up on the island but speculate that they traversed the 13 kilometres from Nova Scotia across Northumberland Strait on sea ice. The newly introduced species is a danger to livestock, says wildlife biologist Sarah Field, and is creating some fear among islanders. "Many people are scared of having a large predator on the island," she says, which hasn’t been the case since the last black bear disappeared from the province in the 1950s.

There are now between 1,000 and 4,000 coyotes on Prince Edward Island, says Field, and the population continues to grow — testament to the coyote’s remarkable resilience.

Airing on March 7, "Shapeshifter" is one of six CG Presents documentaries to be shown on Discovery Channel Canada from February 7 to April 4.

— Jodi Di Menna

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