Animal advocates hope that the final solution in place to stop aggressive coyote attacks in Vancouver’s biggest park will be a wake-up call to anyone who thinks feeding a wild animal is a good idea.
“One of my constant refrains is: ‘It’s not Disney,'” said Victoria Shroff, a lawyer who has practised animal law for more than two decades.
“These are wild animals and they need to be treated like wild animals. They are not pets.”
Since December there have been 45 reported aggressive coyote attacks in the four-square-kilometre downtown park, which have included children being bitten.
Over that same period the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation says there have been reports of people bringing food into the park and feeding coyotes, as well as leaving food in open areas in hopes of drawing a coyote closer to photograph it.
Efforts to close areas of the park, and appeals to not feed the coyotes, which have lived in the park for decades, have not brought an end to the attacks.
“It appears that people can’t be trusted, which is really unfortunate because Stanley Park is basically the jewel in Vancouver’s crown,” said Shroff.
On Friday, B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, which is responsible for wildlife management across the province, announced plans to trap up to 35 coyotes in the park and humanely euthanize them.
The ministry said it is not possible to capture and relocate the coyotes, because they have become “highly food-conditioned and human-habituated” from people feeding them.
It also said that the number and severity of the attacks indicates the conditioning “is widely spread through the local population.”
“The decision to lethally remove the coyotes was not the province’s first choice, and only comes after considerable effort into finding other alternatives to prevent the incidents,” said a statement from the ministry on Friday.
Shroff said she is “very upset” that the aggressive coyote problem in Stanley Park has come to this. She wishes more stringent park closures and advocacy around feeding were implemented sooner and with greater force.
She understands, though, why the cull is being done now.
“Because we know that the problem is probably with human-mediated issues such as feeding and causing the habituation of coyotes,” she said.
The conservation service says feeding coyotes habituates them to humans and most often results in them being killed for safety reasons.
Nadia Xenakis with the Stanley Park Ecology Society, which since 2001 has run a program called Co-existing With Coyotes, hopes the cull will change some people’s behaviour.
“Hopefully as devastating as this news is, it will kind of get people to realize that we really need to be held accountable for how we conduct ourselves in outdoor spaces.”
Feeding is ‘extreme animal cruelty’
The society is undertaking and planning several initiatives to improve conditions in the park for when new coyotes, which are plentiful across Metro Vancouver, move into the space left by those euthanized by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (BCCOS).
“If there’s anything that I can give people to take with you is that feeding wildlife is extreme animal cruelty and it results in death often,” she said. “The nicest thing you can do for wildlife is make sure everything is secure, you’re not feeding them accidentally or intentionally and you are informing others as well.”
Family members using the Stanley Park pitch and putt today sent this pic of a coyote. It was centimetres away from a golfer clutching his club. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/vancouver?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#vancouver</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/ParkBoard?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ParkBoard</a> <a href=”https://t.co/RhIAfHaauw”>pic.twitter.com/RhIAfHaauw</a>
The society has already begun adding signs in the park warning about the dangers of feeding wild animals.
A pilot project is underway to install wildlife-proof garbage bins in the park. The society also hopes to install trail cameras to be better able to monitor future coyotes. It is also compiling all reports of feeding wild animals to better track where and when it is happening.
Anyone witnessing someone feeding wildlife in Stanley Park is asked to report it to the BCCOS at 1-877-952-7277. Aggressive coyote behaviour can also be reported to the same line.
Conservation officers can ticket people caught illegally feeding wildlife under B.C.’s Wildlife Act. Penalties can involve a year in prison or fines worth up to $100,000 for a first offence.
The City of Vancouver is also working on a bylaw that would carry penalties for people caught feeding wildlife.