British Columbia

This 75-year-old refuses to give up walking in Stanley Park. Here's how he protects himself from coyotes

Every day for the past 10 years a Vancouver man who lives on the edge of the city's biggest park has walked there for two hours a day but now won't go without protective gear to drive off aggressive coyotes he encounters.

Bernie Steininger carries a large stick, can with coins in it, whistle and bear spray to chase off coyotes

Bernie Steininger, 75, has walked in Stanley Park every day for 10 years. He now carries a stick, whistle, noisemaker and bear spray to chase off aggressive coyotes. (Chad Pawson/CBC News)

Bernie Steininger has walked the trails of Vancouver's Stanley park for two hours every day for the past 10 years.

Lately, however, the 75-year-old has been arming himself with bear spray, a stick, whistle and noisemaker to drive off the aggressive coyotes he encounters. 

"I feel like I'm going into battle," Steininger said about gearing up for his daily walks on the trails of Vancouver's biggest park. 

Steininger has come face-to-face with aggressive coyotes over the past year as the Vancouver Park Board and B.C.'s Conservation Officer Service have struggled to understand and deal with the animals that have been attacking people in the park.

Since December, close to 40 people have been bitten, including children.

While six coyotes have been trapped and killed — two in January and four in July — the attacks have continued, with the latest happening August 12.

Steininger snapped this photo of a coyote near the hollow tree in Stanley Park in September 2020. He says the animal showed no fear of him, months before bites began being reported. (Bernie Steininger)

Part of the problem, officials say, is people feeding the animals, along with garbage being left in the park and off-trail, overnight visits to the area.

No measure so far has stopped the aggressive behaviour.

"We have one of the world's finest city parks and people fear using it. To me that doesn't sound like an acceptable situation," said Steininger.

Steininger first noticed a change in the way coyotes behaved in the park last September, months before the attacks began.

He was on one of his eight- to 10-kilometre daily walks in the park, when he came around a corner near the hollow tree and saw a coyote standing in the middle of the trail. 

'I freaked'

Steininger said usually if a coyote saw him in the park, it took off running. But not this time. The animal stared at him and did not move. Steininger moved to the edge of the trail for the animal to move past, which it did, but he noticed the animal turn to come up behind him.

"And that's when I freaked. I put my hands up, I screamed and I actually made a movement towards it and he walked away," said Steininger. 

Steininger says he reported the incident to the Conservation Officer Service and was told the animal was most likely trying to bite him.

"Well I wasn't a happy camper. I'm 75, I don't want a coyote's teeth buried in my calf," he said.

Coyote protection gear

As the fall transitioned into winter and the attacks started happening more often, Steininger began looking over his shoulder every time he went out walking.

He also began carrying a stick, along with a can filled with coins, which can be shaken to haze or scare off aggressive coyotes. He also has a whistle and a canister of bear spray attached to his hip as a last resort.

"I felt I needed something in case everything else failed and a coyote is still hell-bent on attacking me," he said.

Steininger shows the can with coins inside that he uses to 'haze' or scare off aggressive coyotes in Stanley Park. (Chad Pawson/CBC News)

In the past three months, Steininger says he's had two aggressive encounters that would scare off most people from walking in the park at all.

Both happened on Tatlow Walk and required Steininger to use everything but the bear spray to chase the animals off.

"You know they're supposed to have a healthy fear of people and I was suddenly adjusting to coyotes that didn't have any fear of people and did indeed seem to be treating us as intruders in the park," he said.

Steininger says he has come in contact with coyotes around 20 times in the past year, including this one he photographed in early April. (Bernie Steininger)

Steininger says one of the encounters involved the animal approaching after he had already chased it off with his stick, noisemaker and voice. He said he made the mistake of turning his back on the animal and walking away from it quickly, because on the next check it was back and running at him.

"This animal is coming to attack me and that's the first time and only time in Stanley Park that I can say that I've witnessed a coyote coming for me in that way," he said.

"And I faced him and I ran toward him, screaming and waving the stick and I ran toward him at a good clip, he ran into the trees and I got to the road and phoned the conservation people and told them about what I considered to be a very dangerous encounter."

 

Steininger says despite the scary encounters, he is committed to walking in the park every day for his physical and mental health. He only walks in the park in the mid-afternoon, at what is supposed to be the safest time of day. Officials say most attacks have happened between dusk and dawn.

Steininger, who has seen or come in contact with coyotes around 20 times over the past year, hopes that officials can figure out what's causing the attacks and how to fix the problem. He says in the meantime it's sad that many people are simply avoiding one of the best urban parks in the world.

"I used to see families in here with their kids," he said. "They aren't using it anymore. They consider it too dangerous."

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