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There comes a time in every reporter’s life where her colleague will turn to her, wide-eyed and innocent, and ask: “Where do coyotes come from?”
After cursing the Alberta school system for not doing a better job on reproductive health education back in the 1980s, you’ll sit him down and calmly explain what happens when a mom coyote and dad coyote love each other very much. Then he’ll tell you he meant the Stanley Park coyotes, specifically. You know, the ones that have been attacking people, unprovoked, for the past year? Why aren’t you reading the news? Have you forgotten it’s literally your job? Also, can you not use the word literally when you’re paraphrasing—I’m a 50-year-old man and don’t speak that way?
Okay, okay, let’s remember I’m not on trial here! I’ve never bitten anyone (unprovoked) (this year)! Let’s get this angry mob focused back on the wily coyotes who have taken over our city’s biggest park and turned it into their personal playground and buffet.
To be clear: Stanley Park’s coyote problem is no joke. Forty-plus people have been bitten between December 2020 and now, many in broad daylight on the seawall as they were just minding their own business training for the SeaWheeze Virtual or attempting to see if the Girl in a Wetsuit sculpture is wearing a bathing suit under her scuba gear.
There have been coyotes in Stanley Park for years, co-existing in harmony alongside the park’s other notable wildlife—Ultimate Frisbee players—but it’s only during the pandemic that they, in wrestling parlance, have “turned heel.” With more people using the park as a result of the pandemic and leaving more garbage and alcohol around than previously, coyotes have grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle… and are starting to get a little greedy.
Yes, feeding coyotes is technically illegal, but people assume there are no restrictions around feeding racoons or squirrels (or, should you be so inclined, Ultimate Frisbee players) so the tasty treats humans bring around for these critters (or toss into the trash cans at Second Beach) wind up creating a smorgasbord for the coyotes, too. In other words: they’re foodies! Cut them some slack!
Lashing out at humans is actually incredibly odd behaviour for coyotes. The U.S. Humane Society even reports that you’re more likely to be killed by a rogue golf ball than you are to be attacked by a coyote in North America in any given year, but obviously the Stanley Park coyotes did not read the “fun facts” page of the organization’s website.
They’ve adapted comfortably to the West Coast lifestyle, like many other predators do (e.g., Toronto finance bros), but coyotes aren’t actually native to Canada. Once upon a time, you’d find them only in the deserts and grasslands of the American Midwest. But European settlers came along and decimated both their natural habitats (via overdevelopment) and natural frenemies (the wolf). So with open spaces, new food sources and pesky lupine rivals out of the way, coyotes were finally free to roam, and being supremely adaptable, they now inhabit almost every kind of environment in the continent. So, yes, like most historical issues I cover in this column, it is Whitey’s fault, in a roundabout way, that we’re in the middle of a coyote bite-o-rama. On behalf of my stupid colonizer ancestors: oops.
Coyotes were first noted in Metro Vancouver in the 1930s, and then the first sighting in Vancouver proper happened in the ’80s. Today, the Stanley Park Ecology Society produces a map of coyote sightings and these little stinkers have really made themselves at home here in the big city: you’re as likely to spot one at Queen Elizabeth Park as you are in Dunbar. The things is, most Vancouverites don’t even mind co-habiting with these furry neighbours. One 1997 survey found that most people felt the animals enhanced their lives.
I suspect coyotes can get their polling numbers up again, if they can keep their teeth to themselves like the rest of us. The B.C. Conservation Officer Service practiced some extreme measures to encourage that behaviour: in September, it closed the park for two weeks to cull the population. Only a handful were caught, but that’s apparently enough to teach the others a valuable lesson and the park is now re-opened. Next time you’re braving the walking trails, make sure you’re alert, but also have some empathy for our furry friends: COVID’s been tough on all of us, as it turns out.
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