In January, University of British Columbia wildlife biologist Kristen Walker put ground-level motion-sensor cameras in various sections of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Her goal was to shed light on the perplexing behaviour of the park’s coyotes, which have been behaving aggressively and even attacking humans.
Dr. Walker, who describes the coyotes’ actions as “unprecedented” hoped the project would help identify how many coyotes live in the park, the hours when they were most active and what pressures they might be dealing with. She would also incorporate the collected data into a course on human-wildlife conflict that she teaches at UBC.
As it turned out, the cameras revealed more about human behaviour than that of coyotes. “We have images of people using the trails at all hours of the night, of partying in the park, of lewd sexual activity and even footage of individuals with machetes walking off-trail,” says Dr. Walker. Several cameras also had to be replaced after they were stolen or vandalized; an indication, notes Dr. Walker, “that there are some activities people don’t want uncovered.”
As months passed, the number of coyote attacks increased to more than 40 by August. This was despite the fact that conservation officers had euthanized seven coyotes, barricaded several trails and eventually closed the park from dusk to dawn.
Dr. Walker believes the problem stems primarily from human behaviour – the feeding of coyotes, which causes them to lose their fear of humans. “We’ve had reports of folks going in with raw chicken and cat food, throwing that in the bushes and trying to draw the coyotes out so they can take photos,” she says.
In late August, after a cluster of attacks in a 72-hour span that included two attacks on children, provincial officials announced they would trap and kill up to 35 coyotes.
The cull may end the coyote threat for the moment, but most wildlife experts don’t see it as a long-term solution. “This approach only works if it is a closed system. We know that the coyotes from other parts of the city will eventually move in to replace them,” says Dr. Walker, who feels there need to be more efforts made to deal with the human behaviour that has created the problem, including stringent enforcement of the ban on feeding wildlife.