Vancouver coyote warning issued as some look for love, others look for food

Peak coyote denning season is forcing the Vancouver Park Board to close some trails in Stanley Park.

The board is hoping to avoid a repeat of last year, when dozens of coyote attacks, including some on children, were reported. The series of attacks led to the temporary closure of the popular park.

So far this year, the Park Board says there are no reports of aggressive behaviour — but there have been sightings.

There’s also been what’s known as shadowing or escorting — when a coyote looks like it’s following you, but really, it’s trying to get you out of its space so it can mate.

The Reservoir Trail and parts of Eagle and Hanson trails have been shut down, so the animals are not disturbed.

The Park Board’s Dana McDonald says the animals can become more aggressive, especially when they’re hungry.

“The key thing that we learned is food is the driving factor for this behaviour. So that means indirect feeding, when food is left on the ground, or direct feeding, where people are offering food to coyotes or other wildlife,” McDonald explained. “It’s really important to avoid any kind of wildlife feeding in the park. We’ve recently updated our bylaws prohibiting any feeding of squirrels, raccoons, of birds and especially of coyotes in the park.”

Despite repeated warnings last year, people kept feeding the animals. McDonald notes this kind of behaviour can lead to habituation.

“Which is an animal becoming accustomed to getting food from a human and then approaching for food. When they expect food from a human, that means they are more likely to get aggressive in search of food.”

If you are near a coyote, McDonald says to try to get out of the area.

“Give coyotes lots of space. If you see them, you can back away. If they approach you, you can be big, be bold, and be loud, and you can throw items if needed. Respect trail closures. We have a few trail closures in Stanley Park right now where we have some suspected denning sites and a really important one is to keep your dogs on leash. There is a small off-leash dog area in Stanley Park, but the bulk of the park is on-leash. A small dog is an attractant to a coyote — it looks like prey and a large dog is an irritant to a coyote and it could invite aggression.”

She adds coyotes start pairing up in January and we don’t see pups until June. They’ll then be with their parents for several months after that.

“Denning season is early in the year but the breeding season extends several months into the year.”

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McDonald can’t say right now if the park will have to be closed again this year, but she points out it’s a balancing act to keep people safe while giving the animals the space they need to mate.

There are also some concerns with COVID-19 rules easing. With more people gathering in green spaces, the animals could have more access to people and food.

Last year, the Vancouver Park Board approved a bylaw that set fines at $500 for anyone caught feeding urban wildlife. Under the Wildlife Act in B.C., fines can be tens of thousands of dollars.

If you want to report any concerning coyote behaviour, you can call the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1.877.952.7277. You can also report coyote sightings to the Stanley Park Ecology Society at 604.257.6908, ext. 104.

North Shore bears on the prowl

The message of not leaving any food behind applies to the North Shore right now too because bears are up from their winter slumber and are looking for food.

Luci Cadman with the North Shore Black Bear Society says things started off slowly this year when it comes to bear activity, but it’s really picked up recently.

“What we’ve seen this year is bears that we’re familiar with that we’ve spent time within the community last year are straight back from their winter den [and] back into the community where they’ve found food. Already we’re having issues of bears finding bird feeders and garbage across the North Shore, sadly.”

She adds because the winter was relatively mild, there is a long bear season ahead.

“The accessibility of unnatural foods as well have kept some of our bears awake and active over the winter, so we’ve got some quite big bears that are moving around, certainly in the Lynn Valley and Capilano areas.”

Cadman says bears are looking for fresh spring greens right now, so think dandelions and grass.

“They’re really looking for that new growth, so we do see an increase in bear activity at this time of year as they travel to lower elevations to find those natural food sources.”

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Very soon, Cadman says we’ll see moms with their cubs more widely.

“It’s also about to be dispersal season as well, that’s when the females will push away last year’s cubs and that’s when we get these teenaged bears that are seeking food sources in areas where they perhaps shouldn’t be, so we need to keep in mind that birdseed and suet are very, very strong attractants. It’s practically impossible to hang a bird feeder where a bear can’t access it. They will climb onto the roof of your house to get to those high-calorie rewards and garbage needs to be secured until the morning of pick-up and food scraps and recyclables too.”

There are bylaws in place across the North Shore to address just that, so nobody in that region is allowed to put any items at curbside overnight.

Also be aware of outdoor fridges and freezers, pet food, and dirty barbecues — those can also attract bears, Cadman warns.

You can report all conflicts with wildlife to the BC Conservation Officer by calling 1.877.952.7277.

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