Luxury coyotes living the high life in Shaughnessy
By Katelyn Verstraten
New neighbours have moved into one of Vancouver’s richest neighbourhoods, stalking dog-walkers, bathing in fountains, and eating pets. They’re not even paying their property taxes.
Concerned residents have been told the only solution is to come up with a strategy for everyone to co-exist peacefully. Yet these are no ordinary bad neighbours – they are coyotes. And they are living very comfortably in the heart of Shaughnessy.
“It’s an interesting circumstance,” says Dan Straker, co-ordinator of Stanley Park Ecology Society’s Co-Existing With Coyotes program. “People don’t tend to think when they’re making habitats for themselves, and luxurious habitats in particular, that something like a coyote will also enjoy it. The reality is we share a lot of the same habitat needs, and these coyotes really make use of them.”
Many of the homes in Shaughnessy’s Crescent area, some valued at over $24-million, are owned by offshore buyers. Consequently, those properties are unoccupied for large parts of the year, creating lush, unkempt and quiet areas that are perfectly suited to coyotes. Pools, fountains and expansive gardens have made an ideal habitat for these “luxury coyotes,” particularly if properties are not being regularly lived in or maintained.
Since receiving initial complaints in June this year, Straker has not only confirmed the presence of coyotes in the yards of mansions on Matthews Avenue, but he also suspects they are using some of the less inhabited properties as shelters and hiding places.
“One thing that I did notice is lots of pathways into the backs of properties, through hedges,” said Straker. “You can just tell that there are very obvious entry and exit points for coyotes to be going in and out of properties.”
Coyotes are not a new problem in Vancouver. They were first seen in the 1980s. Today, there are an estimated 200 to 300 coyotes living within the city, with around 2,000 in the Lower Mainland.
Hannah Luber walks her dog Davka daily in Crescent Park and has encountered the luxury coyotes numerous times.
“Coyotes are everywhere in Vancouver,” said Luber. “They are able to adapt to city living conditions. So, rich or poor, everyone deals with coyotes.”
Yet the idea of coyotes living in a neighbourhood of opulent mansions is a unique situation and a particularly worrisome one for Shaughnessy’s more traditional “luxury” animals – small dogs and cats.
Shaughnessy resident Cecile Cabsaba feared for the safety of her Yorkshire terrier, Coco, when she saw several coyotes one morning.
“I was so afraid they would attack my dog,” said Cabsaba. “I picked her up and covered her with my jacket and ran home.”
“There was a group of dog walkers on an email list, and they wanted something done,” said Straker, noting that small dogs, particularly those off-leash, are legitimately at risk of becoming a snack for a hungry coyote. “I was getting reports pretty constantly.”
Mel Wiens, a city worker in the area who reports regularly seeing the coyotes in Crescent Park, noted they seemed unafraid of their human neighbours.
“I was walking by the park and a pack of four coyotes were about 10 feet away,” said Wiens. “They just stood there, they wouldn’t run away. You could kind of see their silhouettes hiding at the edge of the darkness.”
Even in one of the city’s most upscale neighbourhoods, learning to co-exist peacefully with bad neighbours appears to be the only solution. Straker recently met with Shaughnessy residents to teach them how to live with the newest members of their community.
Unless they attack humans, urban coyotes are almost always handled non-lethally. So far, this has been the approach taken in the Crescent area.
“Just like bears, coyotes have to be fed by people directly before they become aggressive,” said Straker.
There are several tips the ecology centre’s coyote program offers all Vancouver residents learning to live with their new neighbours. For Shaughnessy, however, part-time residents and offshore owners pose the biggest challenge. Properly maintaining these expansive properties remains the best deterrent to coyotes.
Since September, there have been fewer reported coyote sightings in Crescent Park.
Yet some people remain unconvinced that the luxury coyotes have moved out and believe that stronger tactics than simply co-existing with coyotes are needed.
“At the moment, it’s a battle between the citizens and the coyotes, “ said Luber. “And it looks like the coyotes are winning.”
Coyote Q & As
Q. What do I do if I see a coyote?
A. Appear as big, mean, and loud as possible, and never, ever run from a coyote. Shout, wave your arms, and throw hard objects at the coyote. A tin can filled with pennies makes an excellent noisemaker. Most importantly, never feed a coyote. “A fed coyote is a dead coyote,” as it encourages dependence on human food and leads to aggressive behaviour towards humans.
Q. How can I keep my pets safe?
A. If you have an outdoor cat, you may need to consider making it an indoor cat, or at least removing coyote attractions such as accessible garbage, rodent habitats (neglected sheds and yards), and outdoor pet food and water. A two-metre fence also works to keep coyotes out of yards. Keep all dogs on a short leash while on walks (particularly small ones) and try to go out at times of the day when there is high pedestrian traffic. Never allow larger dogs to play with coyotes or become too familiar with them.
Q. Do coyotes carry rabies?
A. Coyotes in some places in North America have been known to carry rabies. However, there have been no known cases of rabid coyotes in British Columbia.
Q. Why not just kill off urban coyotes in Vancouver?
A. Eliminating coyotes lethally doesn’t eliminate their habitats, and other coyotes often migrate into the area. Further, coyotes often increase their litter size when the population drops to compensate for decreased numbers. Coyotes are typically only culled if they have become very aggressive towards humans; generally, only one or two specific coyotes are targeted. In B.C., culling is viewed as a last resort. Aggressive coyotes should be immediately reported to the Ministry of Environment at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277) and the Co-Existing with Coyotes Info Line at 604-681-WILD (9453).
Documents provided by the Stanley Park Ecology Society’s Co-Existing With Coyotes program