A coyote in the city? A coyote near my farm? Don't these animals belong in the wild?
A coyote that finds itself among houses and urban parks, or living on the border of rural farms is looking for the same thing as us – a means to survive and provide for its family.
||Coyotes have become common sights in urban areas and around rural farms across North America. In B.C.'s Lower Mainland for example, there is estimated to be 2,000-3,000 urban coyotes. They belong to the Canid family and are related to wolves, foxes and our domestic dogs. Coyotes are smart, social and playful, just like our domestic dogs, however they have a bad reputation for killing small animals.
It is this same trait that in fact makes them valuable to our urban and rural ecosystems as a scavenger and a predator of rodents and insects. This important role in nature is often forgotten when faced with human-coyote conflicts.
Why are they here?
Coyotes have been expanding their range over the past 100 hundred years. Although coyotes have been in B.C. for many years they are relatively new to places such as Vancouver. Coyotes prefer grasslands and living at the edges of forests. But urban development and farmland create new habitats, while railway lines, hydro-wire corridors and highways provide easy pathways for coyotes to travel. The more forest land that is cleared for development, the more habitat space for coyotes, who don't live in dense forests. Also, other predators such as cougars, bears and wolves usually move away from human occupied areas providing coyotes with an unchallenged food supply. So it is not surprising that the coyote does well living among us!
Coyotes are classified as carnivores but their diet varies greatly making them a "generalist species" which gives them the ability to adapt to new places as long as there is enough food and shelter. They primarily eat small mammals – rats, mice, shrews, voles, squirrels, and rabbits. Being opportunists, coyotes will also eat just about anything – garbage, compost, fallen fruit, seeds from bird feeders, and pet food. So why not live in areas close to people to get such an easy meal! Pet guardians need to be particularly careful because coyotes will prey on free-roaming cats and small dogs if given the opportunity and other resources are scarce. There have even been occasional cases where dogs have been attacked even while on leash. On the farm and even with urban chickens, coyotes can cause significant losses so proper precautions should be taken seriously.
Is it a Coyote?
|The coyote track closely resembles that of a dog or fox – the print is a rough oval shape with four toes bearing claw prints. The larger front foot has a much larger pad than the smaller rear foot. To tell the difference from a dog, coyotes are referred to as "perfect steppers" – their front and rear paws land in the same spot when in stride, and overall tracks follow a straight path where a dog's steps will wander.
The Stanley Park Ecology Society program Co-existing with Coyotes tracks coyote sightings; you can click here to report a coyote sighting in Metro Vancouver.
Possible Conflicts and Solutions
Although coyotes are generally not dangerous to people, in a city they often come into conflict with humans. They eat garbage and food left outdoors, and sometimes they attack small pets. In rural areas, coyotes are tempted by small and young farm animals. Normally coyotes pose no danger to adults, but people should be aware there are potential risks to pets and small children. Coyotes by nature are fearful of humans but some have lost their fear after being fed by people over time. Attacks on people are very rare, and in all known cases the coyote had lost its fear of humans because people were feeding the animal.
*If confronted by a coyote: yell, stamp your feet, look big, wave your arms and scare the coyote away. Kids, especially, need to know this!*
Protect your pets! Coyotes are attracted to and can mate with unspayed or unneutered domestic dogs. Unspayed female dogs in season will attract male coyotes, and unneutered male dogs can be lured away by the scent of a female coyote in her ovulation cycle. There have been cases of male dogs being lured by the female coyote's scent and killed by male coyotes. It is strongly advised that people living in areas frequented by coyotes have their dogs spayed or neutered to prevent such tragedies from occurring.
The BC SPCA's position on coyotes parallels that of the BC Ministry of Environment which focuses on co-existence. Only coyotes known to be causing a direct threat to people should be killed, and the method of killing must be humane. Call 1-800-663-9453 to report an aggressive or threatening coyote. Note that coyotes are NOT rabies carriers in B.C.
Trapping is not the solution
Trapping is inhumane and ineffective. Even if you use a live trap, relocating coyotes to another place is usually a death-sentence. The removed coyote is in danger in the new area because it is likely the home range or territory of another coyote. In fact, a large percentage of wildlife that is removed from the city generally does not survive and just move the problem to someone else's backyard. Coyotes are clever enough to avoid most traps and even if they were removed, they may be replaced by other coyotes. Since a coyote has an established territory, removing one might create a habitat for two new coyotes. Poisoning programs to reduce coyote numbers is also inhumane and could also kill other wild animals or pets.
The key is that a balance will be reached within the environment based on available food supply. The better we are keeping the food supply restricted – cleaning up garbage, protecting farm animals and keeping pets under supervision – the fewer coyotes there will be over time. Learning to live with the coyote through tolerance and prevention seems to be the best answer.
Prevention is the key to co-existing
• Never leave small children unattended.
• Never attempt to feed any wildlife as doing so causes them to they lose their fear of humans - "A fed coyote is a dead coyote" because if the coyote attacks a person you can bet that animal will be destroyed.
• Supervise all pets closely outdoors, keeping them indoors from dusk to dawn.
• The only way to guarantee your cat's safety is by making it an indoor pet. An outdoor-enclosed cat run is also an option.
• Discourage coyotes with a fence at least 2 meters high and flush to the ground or dug below ground level.
• Maintain sheds and garages to prevent unwelcome tenants.
• Monitor your property for rodent activity to reduce attracting their predators.
• Protect farm animals with fencing, ensure their cages are well-built, and ideally contain farm animals indoors at night.
Be sure you are not feeding coyotes without realizing it! Check that:
• Garbage bins and composts are secured
• Fruit fallen from trees is not left on the ground
• Bird feeders are not overflowing with seeds
• Pets are fed inside and no pet food is left outside