Most Vancouverites have probably seen a coyote wandering through a park or crossing a street, but few report these sightings. That is something a city wildlife organization and an east Vancouver pet owner want to change.
“Our goal is to keep people, pets and coyotes safe. And we do that primarily through people reporting their sightings to us,” Stanley Park Ecology Society urban wildlife co-ordinator Greg Hart said. “From where those sightings are, we get an idea of how habituated these animals are and do our outreach and targeted response based on where are animals showing the first signs of aggression.”
The ecology society operates an interactive online map where people across the Lower Mainland can report coyote sightings. Experts believe up to 300 coyotes live in the city and, while aggressive encounters are rare, Hart believes it is important to keep people informed.
He recently found an ally in Judith Webster, a Commercial Drive local who has operated a resident text-alert system about coyote sightings since June.
“The plan is to try and prevent a disaster,” Webster said.
In Webster’s mind, a disaster is a cat getting grabbed by a coyote. Her solution is the “Vanyotes” text alert system she created. She’s already got 60 subscribers and her goal is to expand. When one user sees a coyote, the sighting is reported and that information is shared with other subscribers.
Hart reached out to collaborate with Webster this August after her initiative started to take off.
“Raising awareness and spreading the word certainly does help, that’s why I reached out and asked her,” said Hart. “We can put the sightings she receives in the map as well so it can be broadcasted not just for the people who send text messages but for the entire Vancouver area.”
Webster says that more programs like hers across Vancouver would help increase awareness of ecology society’s resources.
“Most people who sight a coyote don’t do anything about it. Because we have 60 people and they have somewhere to report them to immediately, then I can forward them to Stanley Park,” she said. “But in other areas without reporting, a lot of people don’t know to report them anywhere.”
Webster hopes that the success of her project will lead others in neighbourhoods across Vancouver to start similar projects.
“I think if this really works over the next year, then I think I should start getting other parts of the city to do one,” Webster said. “Maybe through Block Watch programs [or] finding someone with cats who go out that would be interested in starting a program. Because I can’t go over the whole city.”
Even though the ecology society wants to ensure coyotes are tracked, officials remind people that coyotes perform an important service in cities by keeping rat and mouse populations down. Hart said cats and other pets represent only two per cent of their diet.
“The fact that there are 200 to 300 coyotes living in Vancouver and there are so few incidents of actual conflict or aggressive animals is a real testament of how well they do co-exist with us,” Hart said.
AAA Wildlife Control owner Randy Celinski says that, while coyotes pose a danger to cats and small housepets, owners can make choices to protect their animals.
“Cats are indoor pets. Cats that are outside are out of their elements, so they have to deal with what is out there,” he said. “The coyote is just doing what it does to survive.”
Celinski said the exposure of initiatives like Webster’s and the ecology society’s have led to decreased need for coyote removal.
“The calls that come to our company regarding coyote have gone down because of public awareness,” Celinski said.
To subscribe to Webster’s text alerts, email vanyotes[email protected].com.