Co-Existing with Coyotes in Vancouver (and Anywhere Else, for That Matter)

Article excerpt

Coyotes were first spotted in the Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, landscape in the late 1980s, having been attracted by the city's green space, access corridors, food supply, and rodent population. Their arrival was accompanied by a great deal of surprise, myth, and concern. Coyotes were seen hunting on golf courses, sunbathing in parks and backyards, and trotting along streets and alleys. Soon they began to appear as the topic of local radio talk shows and cafe and park conversations throughout the city. Their appearance was unexpected and they arrived without invitation, but it soon became clear that coyotes were in Vancouver to stay.

Vancouver's coyotes adapted to the urban lifestyle quickly and with ease, leading to an increase in the number of encounters and experiences with people. Some coyotes began to prey on outdoor cats, while others dined on food deliberately left out for them by humans. Public opinion, as on any topic, was divided. There were suggestions of a cull, a trapping and relocation program, a public education campaign, and doing nothing at all. The one constant among all the suggestions and concern was a demand for accurate and consistent coyote information--something that, at the time, just wasn't there.

Although coyotes had been known to live in regions within 80 to 100 kilometers (50 to 60 miles) of Vancouver since the 1930s, their appearance in city and suburban yards and main streets brought surprise. Residents were shocked to learn that the coyote was not the wolf-sized, nocturnal, pack-hunting carnivore that their first thoughts suggested but a 9 to 16 kilogram (20 to 35 pound) master of adaptation that was perfectly comfortable and amazingly discreet living in close proximity to active human populations.

Attempts to live box-trap the first coyotes sighted in Vancouver for relocation proved a failure; the animals would sniff and circle but not one of them would enter the trap. At the dawn of the millennium, every neighborhood in urban Vancouver had been, at one time or another, visited by a coyote, with certain areas--usually bordering large natural parks or golf courses--becoming well known for coyote activity.

As the 1990s concluded, there were a growing number of reports of coyotes losing their instinctive fear of people, an increased number of outdoor cats reported missing, and in certain areas, incidents of small dogs being removed directly from their owner's leash. Three incidents of children being bitten occurred in 2000; each incident received immense media coverage and caused fragmented panic, clearly demonstrating the need for an organized and effective response.

In February 2001, after open consultation meetings with government, environmental agencies, animal-welfare agencies, and the public, the not-for-profit Stanley Park Ecology Society in cooperation with the Provincial Ministry of Environment and the city of Vancouver began the Co-Existing with Coyotes (CwC) public education program. Two subsequent biting incidents in July 2001 provided the CwC program with instant publicity and recognition. The demand for information was greater than ever before.

CWC'S DEFINITION OF CO-EXISTING

The CwC program aims to reduce conflict among people, pets, and coyotes by providing information to both targeted and general audiences as well as providing a direct response to individual coyotes that are starting to, or are displaying, behavior of concern. Stanley Park Ecology Society and city of Vancouver wildlife staff track, locate, evaluate, and use nonlethal coyote deterrents with consistent success in neighborhoods throughout Vancouver but, equally important, also recognize that coexistence is not always an option.

Program staff work to identify and help coordinate the removal of any coyote that poses a risk to human safety, and they support the provincial management plan that calls for aggressive coyotes to be destroyed. …