By Rebeka Breder and Lesley Fox
In the last year, there have been more than 30 negative encounters between people and coyotes in Stanley Park. This is concerning. However, killing the coyotes is simply a knee-jerk reaction, while leaving the root of the problem unresolved.
Stanley Park and Vancouver were carved out of wilderness, on the traditional territories of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tseil-Waututh First Nations. It was only in the late 1880s that Stanley Park became recognized as a park.
Prior to these recent incidents, there had been only eight direct contacts between humans and coyotes in the entire Metro Vancouver region since 2001. Four of these incidents were directly related to feeding coyotes.
This begs the question, what is going on in Stanley Park to cause these recent interactions between people and coyotes?
At this time, the full answer is unknown. However, it is clear that recent coyote behaviour is highly unusual. Coyotes naturally avoid being close to people and are most active at dawn and dusk.
We also know that 16 months ago, much of British Columbia ground to a halt as part of the first lockdown efforts against COVID-19. Such lockdowns led to changes in animal behaviour across North America—suddenly, the largest pressure on ecosystems (humans) was not there. And then, with relative quickness, summer came, and humans returned to those ecosystems.
If you are unsure of how that may impact behaviour, consider being on a poolside vacation with your family, and then your in-laws show up. It may not seem significant at first, but after a few days, you’ll probably be able to empathize with the wildlife in Stanley Park.
There are also encampments in the park, which may be having an impact on coyotes. Pressure from humans also includes people visiting or living in the park with dogs, which means the presence of dog food that will attract wildlife. This is a complex social issue, and it cannot be ignored.
We also know that people—both local visitors and tourists—have been feeding wildlife including coyotes, which teaches them to approach people, the same way we teach our family dogs to come for food rewards. Garbage cans are also not wildlife-resistant and remain openly accessible. Signage is out of date and lack graphics or multilingual text to show that feeding wildlife is prohibited.
According to freedom of information requests, no tickets were issued in the last three years in the park by those who are able to enforce the rules.
In order to ensure a long-term and effective solution, we need a full investigation involving local on-site experts and researchers and the cooperation of various agencies and government, including the Vancouver park board. The current situation is a multifaceted problem that requires a multifaceted—and no-kill—solution.
In the meantime, all garbage cans should be replaced with wildlife-resistant ones, signage should be replaced with clear and multilingual text and pictures showing that feeding wildlife is prohibited, strong enforcement with stiff penalties should be issued to those caught feeding wildlife, and Stanley Park, or parts thereof, should be closed until experts can determine what is truly going on.
Easy answers and steps taken today may feel like progress, but without identifying and treating the underlying problems in Stanley Park, we can expect to be here again.
Stanley Park is this region’s crown jewel for human enjoyment, but it is also a place called home to an array of wildlife. We need to accept that people and wildlife can, and should, coexist. This is the only way to ensure “beautiful British Columbia”.