This post originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Spring may be the season when melting snow reveals surprises, but it's not often those discoveries include beheaded animal carcasses. But that's the situation in London, Ontario this month, as investigators are trying to figure out how up to six coyotes were killed and laid out on hiking trails in ways designed to attract the attention of passers-by.
The first animals were discovered by a walker near a trail on the University of Western Ontario campus on March 15. They were stretched out at the end of a footpath, "nicely in parallel," according to biology professor Greg Thorn, who went to investigate the site after he was shown photographs by a student. Both animals had been shot, Thorn explained, but it's unlikely that happened on campus as fresh footprints in the snow led away from the site. Western police are investigating. According to Staff Sgt. J.C. Aubin, they feel the shootings took place somewhere else, since gunshots on the university grounds would have been heard and reported.
The more gruesome discovery—two decapitated coyote corpses—was made the next day by a hiker near Parkhill, around 40 km northwest of London. Out for an early spring hike, Cassie Schakel of nearby Strathroy found the pair under some trees on land near a conservation area. Taking photos of the animals from a few steps away, Schakel didn't realize they were headless. It was only when looking at the photos later that she realized the bodies were incomplete. There was no blood at the scene, and since the animals seemed to be laid out side-by-side, she feels they were placed there after being killed somewhere else. However, she saw no signs of how the coyotes died.
The situation became extra weird for Schakel's family shortly after their own discovery, when they saw news reports of the Western coyotes. Her husband was looking at dead coyote photos online and she thought someone had snatched her own pictures somehow, as the arrangement of the animals found on the campus was so similar to the ones she found.
While there's no evidence to link the deaths, Jolanta Kowalski of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry feels the situation is "odd." Ministry investigators are looking into the mysterious killings, but it's legal to hunt coyotes in the province year-round, as long as you follow local shooting restrictions. (Hunters need a small-game hunting license.)
Investigators have a tip about the Parkhill deaths, but "enforcement are keeping some information close to their chests," Kowalski said on Wednesday. "We don't know if someone has really done anything wrong. It may just be a case of poor judgement."
It's unlikely the heads of the Parkhill pair were removed to claim a prize, as municipal bounties have been outlawed in Ontario since the 1970s, according to Kowalski. The cause of their deaths is not known so far.
There have been unconfirmed media reports of another dead coyote pair being laid out near the village of Ailsa Craig, near Parkhill, according to Kowalski, though no one has reported this to the Ministry.
Professor Thorne speculates that the Western animals may have been shot by a homeowner in London who couldn't figure out how to dispose of the bodies after the coyotes intruded on the person's property. According to him, there have been "a number" of instances where domestic dogs have been approached or attacked by the creatures that are just plain hungry during the winter.
Police Sgt. Aubin thinks the shooter may have wanted to avoid the difficulty of explaining to officials how the animals died, since firing guns in London is illegal. According to Aubin, these not-so-wily coyotes were shot with a high-powered rifle, as the animals' bones were broken. Of course, none of this would explain the decapitations.
The mystery has a lot of people talking at Western, and has kept the phone lines buzzing at the police office. But according to Aubin, no solid tips have come in so far.
It may be a while before we learn if the Ministry investigators have found fault with anyone. According to Kowalski, they don't usually let media know when they charge a person with violating provincial laws. Instead, they often wait until court proceedings are over before publicizing a conviction. VICE will continue to follow the story.
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