Removing coyotes is ineffective unless residents also change their behaviour, a coyote expert says.
Coyote Watch Canada’s executive director Lesley Sampson stressed that she understands the fears of people in Garrison Village and thinks they are justified in their concern for the neighbourhood.
“The killing of coyotes, people want to jump to that and I get it. I totally understand it, but it’s not effective,” Sampson said in an interview on Tuesday.
Food is the only reason coyotes are wandering the streets of Garrison Village, she said.
“Once a coyote is navigating through a residential area then they are looking for food. They are foraging,” Sampson said.
She is not aware of the coyotes being directly fed by anyone but said direct feeding is nearly always a factor in these types of scenarios.
But coyotes can become “food conditioned,” which means they begin to associate a human settlement or humans as a source of food, through indirect feeding as well, Sampson said.
Indirect food sources for coyotes could be unattended garbage, unsealed trash, pet food left outside, fruit trees or vegetable gardens that are unsecured, bird feeders and even small outdoor pets like cats.
All such sources need to be addressed by residents in order to teach the coyote that it cannot find an easy meal in their neighbourhood, Sampson said.
A coyote will often view a dog as a threat to its territory rather than as a meal and could attack the dog to defend what it perceives as its home.
Sampson said it is fairly clear the coyote that has become the star of numerous videos and pictures around Garrison Village has gotten food conditioned and sees Garrison Village as an easy meal ticket.
“All wildlife, in particular canids, will conserve energy when foraging and hunting. Low energy output for the highest caloric gain is a bonus,” she said.
“Coyotes will return to the areas (where they find food) until they are shown otherwise. A coyote’s not going to go into a residential area unless there is food.”
There is a seemingly simple solution.
“If there’s no food there, the coyotes have no reason to go there,” Sampson said.
“They’re not going to waste the energy because they have to eat to survive and if there is nothing there then they will move on.”
A coyote foraging in a residential neighbourhood may be scary for the residents, but it’s also dangerous and unhealthy for the coyote.
“The problem is that anthropogenic food is not healthy for wildlife, especially items like carbohydrates and processed foods like cat/dog kibble, garbage food that fills the stomach, with little nutritional gain or benefit. Like a fast-food drive-through, someone is providing easy food and this coyote is taking advantage of the opportunity,” Sampson said in an email.
The Lake Report was sent a video from Garrison Village that shows a coyote pulling a white garbage bag out of a recycling container, demonstrating it has developed a penchant for garbage. Other similar videos have been posted to Facebook.
Sampson said residents need to work together in Garrison Village to de-escalate the situation. “It takes an entire community to change behaviour.”
The uncomfortable truth is residents will need to police their own neighbours to make sure all mitigating practices are being followed and that this could potentially fix the situation “overnight.”
“I’m just hoping that the garbage situation and the cat feeding and the bird feeders are addressed swiftly.”
Sampson said she has been in Garrison Village on about eight different mornings trying to spot the coyote herself and observe its behaviour so she knows how it can best be dealt with.
Despite the plethora of videos, she has not seen one, much to her frustration.
“There’s a lot of unknowns but one thing we do know for sure is that there are attractants there that can be mitigated, immediately.”
Sampson said the community could have the coyote killed, if that is their wish.
But removing it without addressing the root causes means “we’re going to be revisiting this again.”
“So, is this what a community wants to get involved in? That cycle of, ‘Let’s just kill them.’ ”
And if the animal is killed, a transient coyote could quickly take its place and be attracted to Garrison Village for the same reasons as the dead coyote, she explained.
Sampson said there is a problem with the way people understand the phrase “living with wildlife.”
“I think folks think that co-existing with wildlife is warm and fuzzy,” she said.
“That’s not what it’s about. It’s about prevention. So, you’re preventing negative encounters. You’re also actively engaged in that process of fostering wildlife resiliency within the community.”
“That means you’re aware of it, what these animals are, how they behave and why they behave like they do and what can we do, as a collective, to change that behaviour,” she said.
“And that starts with removing the food source.”
It is relevant to note that because coyotes are now at the tail end of their mating season and their birthing season is coming up, this is generally their most active time of year, according to Coyote Watch Canada.
Coyotes mate for life and removing one of their parents puts the whole family in jeopardy.
There has been at least one reported event of aggressive coyote behaviour in Garrison Village, where a coyote grabbed a small dog before releasing it. Coyote Watch Canada says incidents of coyotes following or shadowing people should not be a cause for great alarm.
“Coyotes are aware of everything in their territory. When raising families, coyotes will escort or shadow visitors travelling through shared spaces to make sure they leave the area. Often misinterpreted as being ‘bold’ or ‘brazen,’ a curious coyote may stop and watch visitors to assess any threats to his or her family,” the organization says.
There is extensive replanting and restoration taking place in the Two Mile Creek area now, adjacent to Garrison Village. Sampson said it is definitely possible the disruptions there are causing the coyotes to forage for food in new areas.
But she also emphasized the availability of food in Garrison Village is the main driver.
Sampson said claims that the coyote is “fearless” are not accurate.
“Even though people feel that that coyote is not afraid of people, that coyote is unsure of what he or she should be doing, you can see it by the body language,” she said.
“I’ve worked with coyotes for over two decades so it’s not difficult for me to see that. But a resident who is honking a horn — well, a horn’s not going to do much for a coyote because they live in an area where there are horns honking, grape bangers, noises happening all the time.”
Sampson said people should not be walking their little dogs on long retractable leashes as it makes the dog more vulnerable since it is no longer “part of the human” from the coyote’s point of view.
She said those types of leashes also make it more difficult to gain control of your dog if a coyote is around.
Sampson reiterated that she understands residents’ fears.
“It’s just awful and frightening,” she said.