Animal Conservation

People shouldn’t feed coyotes in Stanley Park. Here’s why.

Eleven coyotes were killed in Stanley Park between December 2020 and September 2021

Do not feed Stanley Park wildlife.

This is a clear message that the Vancouver Park Board has been delivering for years.

But this year, the message is more urgent because of what happened in the park between December 2020 and September 2021: the park board recorded 45 incidents where a coyote bit or bit someone.

Joggers, cyclists and walkers have all been victims.

A 44-year-old man riding his scooter on the seawall was also attacked by two coyotes.

The number of bite incidents and other reports of aggression by coyotes was unprecedented in Stanley Park. In fact, no other urban center in North America has seen such behavior from coyotes, which have lived in the park for decades.

Why did this happen?

“Last fall, we were asked a lot to speculate on the exact causes, and we didn’t – and the province avoided it as well,” said Chad Townsend, senior park board planner at the department. environment and sustainability, in an interview. this week.

“But I think all the smart people involved can say with certainty that it’s all about human food. And there was also a disruptive factor of off-leash dogs.

Could it happen again this year?

“It could — it could happen in any other city park as well, given the right combination of factors,” Townsend said. “So it behooves us and our visitors to do better.”

This “best” is not to let people directly or indirectly provide food to coyotes, feed other wildlife such as raccoons, squirrels, and ducks, or leave food waste and bird seed. on the ground, especially around Beaver Lake and the Lost Lagoon.

“There are people we know who feed raccoons for photographs, for example,” he said.

“And so that same food in the food chain is available to coyotes – and raccoons as well. So it just increases the variety of signals being sent to the coyote population – not of their own making – that there are more food available.”

Chad Townsend of the Vancouver Park Board with one of the signs posted in Stanley Park to discourage people from feeding wildlife. Photo Mike Howell

The BC Conservation Officer Service announced in September 2021 that two people had been arrested and their vehicles seized for allegedly feeding coyotes in the park. Such incidents coupled with 45 bite reports resulted in the killing of 11 coyotes.

Townsend said the park’s board does not want such action taken again, stressing the need for visitors to heed the message not to feed wildlife. Being caught feeding a coyote or other animal could result in a $500 fine, which is clearly marked on signs the park board posts around the park.

Signs have also been put up announcing trail closures near coyote dens.

“Habitat space to be re-filled”

The coyote population is expected to repopulate this year as coyotes from other parts of the city move into the park and cubs are born in the spring. Townsend could not provide a definitive number of coyotes currently residing in the park.

“We know there are at least two to four, and 11 were removed last year, so we fully expect the habitat space to be filled again,” he said.

“So it’s probably in the teens, but we don’t really know at any given time how many coyotes, geese, raccoons, or any other wildlife are in the park. It’s a big park. »

That said, students from the University of British Columbia will collect data from wildlife cameras placed throughout the park to get a better idea of ​​coyotes numbers, their behavior and whether humans are interacting with the animals. .

The Stanley Park Ecology Society also recruits volunteers to help with “aversion conditioning,” which involves shaking coin-filled pop cans at coyotes, throwing weighted tennis balls near the animals, and standing standing up and shouting to scare them away.

Trash cans that cannot be knocked over or broken are also part of the park board’s approach this year to prevent a repeat of coyote incidents. Townsend made it clear the park board isn’t concerned about an increase in coyotes in the park, noting that it’s a natural occurrence with urban wildlife.

“It wasn’t the number of coyotes [that was the problem] last year it was how they behaved and what led to that behavior,” he said.

“So we don’t plan to manage the population again. It was the absolute last resort.

“Certainly not solved”

The incidents all happened during the pandemic, but Townsend said he wasn’t convinced that was a major factor as locals replaced tourists in the park. However, more takeout food containers were evident in the city due to public health orders with no dining in restaurants and cafes for several months.

So far this year, the park board has received no reports of coyote attacks.

“No, thank goodness,” Townsend said. “But sightings – a number of sightings, but no aggressive behavior displayed, which is fine. I guess ‘encouraging’ is the best way to say it, but it’s definitely not resolved.”

He urges anyone who sees a coyote in the park or anywhere else in town to report it to the Stanley Park Ecology Society at 604-681-WILD (9453). This type of report helps the park board track the animals.

Aggressive coyotes should be reported to the Department of Environment at 1-877-952-7277.

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@Howellings