Q&A: Most coyotes in cities don't want you to see them, says biologist
Greg Hart with the Stanley Park Ecology Society says coyotes lose fear of humans when deliberately fed
A biologist whose job it is to track coyote sightings and behaviour in Vancouver says the animals are well adapted to city living and actually do their best to avoid humans.
Greg Hart manages the Co-existing with Coyotes program for the Stanley Park Ecology Society and says, on average, there are around 1,000 sightings in Vancouver each year.
About 200 animals have lived in the city since the 1980s.
This week, urban coyotes grabbed headlines after a Burnaby B.C. toddler was bitten by a coyote on the head and required 150 stitches to repair the damage, while a dog walker near Grouse Mountain punched a coyote to stop it from attacking another person's dog.
Hart says stories like these are rare and that, for the most part, coyotes live alongside us because our lifestyle and the design of our cities help them thrive.
"They're a really intelligent, adaptable animal and they learn how to avoid us while exploiting our waste, basically," he said, noting the animals mostly eat rodents like rats and mice.
What went through your mind when you heard about the boy being bitten and the dog walker punching a coyote to chase it off?
"It's a failure of us as a society. These events are so rare, they happen less than once a year. But [the animal in the toddler case] was deliberately fed by people and food is such a powerful motivator for animals.
"Coyotes do really go out of our way to avoid us. I mean the fact that they switched to being nocturnal in our city just is really a testament to how much they do want to give us our space.
'Recipe for conflict'
"Once we start feeding them, they'll change their behaviour. They won't be afraid of us, they'll actually come up and start approaching people.
"They'll approach dogs and pets and that, of course, is a recipe for conflict so that's why the most important step of preventing these incidences is removing food sources from around our yard."
What's the closest you've ever come to a coyote in Vancouver?
"I have gotten probably within five feet of a coyote before when I've gone out to scare them away.
"It's called hazing when you scare away these animals. They're territorial, they'll respond to other creatures letting them know, 'Hey, this is my yard, you're not welcome here.'
"Put some coins and rocks in [a pop can], give it a good shake — it's a really loud noise and it's really effective at scaring away coyotes.
"If they are near your house, spraying them with a garden hose is another really effective way to not hurt the animal but drive it away."
How much danger could an unsupervised small child or a small pet outside be in from a coyote?
"The risk to people is actually really quite [low]. If [coyotes] do come across a small off-leash dog or an outdoor cat then, yes, they may try to prey on that animal, but it's actually a lot less than people think.
"Researchers have done scat analysis [and] found that domestic animals only make up one to two per cent of their diet.
"[It's] just a reminder that we can do our part to keep our four-legged friends and our pets safe by keeping dogs on a leash and keeping cats indoors, especially at night during the spring pupping season."
Why do coyotes do so well in an urban environment?
"Coyotes are primary rodent specialists ... that's really the bulk of what they are eating — rats, mice and squirrels — and our cities are just really full of them.
We have big parks and golf courses, just grasslands that are filled with rodents, so they do thrive just like any of the urban animals that tend to be generalists and really adaptable."
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.