What's causing coyote aggression in Stanley Park? Experts weigh in
VANCOUVER -- An alarming surge in coyote attacks on people in Stanley Park this year likely has more facets than the animals just being fed by people, experts say.
One of the most recent incidents happened at around 7 p.m. Monday.
Globe and Mail journalist Andrea Woo was running on the seawall near the waterpark when she saw a coyote ahead of her.
She had a run-in with a coyote that bit another jogger just a few weeks earlier, so she knew what to do. Woo managed to spook the animal, but while it backed up by a few feet, it didn’t leave altogether.
When the animal turned its attention to a woman and her small dog walking towards Woo, the situation escalated.
“The coyote turns around, looks at the dog. The woman freaks out, I make a bunch of noise, the coyote looks back at me. I pepper spray it. And it ran away,” Woo said.
She was carrying the spray, given to her by a friend after a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in Vancouver, after another close-call with an aggressive coyote in the same spot just a few weeks earlier.
“It was sort of unnerving to see how brazen it was,” Woo added, noting she plans to avoid the area in the near-future.
What is driving the behaviour?
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service says there have been 15 coyote attacks in Stanley Park involving biting or nipping.
While the source of behaviour is believed to be linked in some way to people feeding animals in the park, the full cause of what’s happening is still being investigated.
U.S. coyote researcher Stan Gehrt believes the sudden rise in aggression may be linked to some of the coyotes’ individual genetics.
“There’s a small number of coyotes that actually have a very bold, and in some very rare cases, aggressive genes,” Gehrt told CTV News Tuesday.
“Now all of a sudden you have a couple alpha animals that are also maybe a bit more bold and aggressive naturally than the previous occupants were. When you combine that with maybe some feeding, then you have a situation that escalates.”
Gehrt says the sudden rise being seen in Vancouver isn’t necessarily rare in an urban environment.
University of Alberta biological sciences professor Colleen Cassady St. Clair agrees feeding is likely part of the equation, but has another theory about what is happening.
She believes it may be linked to the territorial nature of coyotes.
“Those coyotes have learned to do that. They have had encounters with people and dogs that were successful. They were able to chase them out of their territory,” Cassady St. Clair told CTV News.
“It might be a multi-generational thing where a family group of animals, an extended family in multiple generations, has learned that gradually, over time, they can dominate people and dogs to keep them out of their territory."
Cassady St. Clair says if that is the case, it is important to keep the park open.
“What we are doing, as a society, when we close those areas is teaching them that yep, that works. You can get rid of all those people by biting them.”
Importance of reporting incidents
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service is urging people to report close encounters with the animals, and instances of people feeding them.
Sightings of non-aggressive animals can be reported to the Stanley Park Ecology Society.
While there have been indications on social media that some coyotes in Burnaby’s Central Park haven’t been showing fear of people, the BCCOS and City of Burnaby say no official reports have been made.
In Stanley Park conservation officers say, for now, it is best to avoid the park between dusk and dawn when the animals are most active.