VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Nearly every city in North America now has a population of urban coyotes, and the recent attacks in Stanley Park have highlighted what can happen if they get too comfortable around humans.
Colleen Cassady St. Clair is a biological sciences professor at the University of Alberta. During Tuesday’s Big Story podcast, she told host, Jordan Heath-Rawlings, that there’s been an increasing number of coyotes in urban areas reports across the continent over the last two decades.
“Probably coyotes always danced around urban areas and were seen occasionally by people … so it’s not entirely new that coyotes are in urban areas. But they just seem to be more abundant and bolder,” she says, adding coyote spottings have become more common in cities like Halifax, Calgary, Phoenix and Yellowknife.
“Pretty much every urban area, in North America — that I’ve heard of anyway — has a population of urban coyotes, and that’s a fairly new phenomenon,” St. Clair says.
“I think that we are undergoing a bit of a sea change here, and the relationship between people and coyotes in urban areas has been changing for quite a while. But it’s reaching a point now where it’s causing a great deal of concern and loss of a sense of security for people in areas that are really quite urban and quite designated for people.”
And St. Clair believes our ability to tolerate urban coyotes have “reached a bit of a tipping point.”
Last week, the BC Conservation Officer Service said there have been 30 coyote attacks causing injury to humans in the past eight months — including a two-year-old girl. She was bitten while walking with her family near the aquarium when a coyote suddenly jumped her.
“That’s extremely unusual. I have never heard of something like that happening anywhere in North America previously.”
Because of the Stanley Park coyote attacks, the park was closed as conservation officers are urged people to stay away.
COVID impacting coyote behaviour
A substantial increase in coyote attacks coincided with the pandemic, St. Clair notes, because our behaviour altered, “I think that has been a very complicated situation for wildlife.”
“They suddenly had a rapid change in human behaviour, where everyone disappeared from the roads and from the parks for a little while. Then suddenly people started to flood into the parks, but they stayed off the roads. That might have really changed movement patterns, and it might have really reduced the number of animals that are killed on roads that’s been documented by others,” she explains.
“At the same time, there was a lot more people occupying a lot more spaces in natural areas, so more people might have created situations of more competition for space more territoriality by coyotes.”
St. Clair adds it’s possible there have been more people feeding the animals and more garbage that’s left behind.
“There’s a lot more resources worth defending. A lot more people are getting in the way. There’s a lot more competition among coyotes for territories and more valuable territories, and I think that might be some of what’s causing this more aggressive behaviour, along a continuum, that’s, that’s much older than the pandemic.”
Conservation officers are warning anyone venturing into Stanley Park to “use abundant caution” due to a “high risk of encountering an aggressive coyote.”
What to do during a coyote encounter
St. Clair’s tips on how to react during a coyote encounter centre on being prepared.
“By throwing things at animals, you show them an intention and aggressive intention without having to be so close.”
Today on @thebigstoryfpn, Dr. Colleen Cassady St. Clair of @ualberta joins @thegamesheet to discuss the dozens of coyote attacks that have happened this year and to share how to protect ourselves. Check out this episode at https://t.co/RuqyAM9Io7 pic.twitter.com/vVb8S3Yukz
— Frequency Podcast Network (@frequencypods) July 20, 2021
She adds you can also shout aggressively or carry a small wildlife air horn or a can full of coins or rocks.
She says you can also make motions towards it or a chasing action towards, but do not run away from the coyote.
“That’s one thing one should never do because all coursing predators meaning chasing predators. Coyotes are just evolutionarily wired to chase things that run away from them.”