Food Handouts Lead to Heartbreaking Outcomes for Wildlife
SPES began 2021 with a difficult wildlife situation that quickly escalated over a few weeks. On January 8, local media reported coyotes nipping and biting people in the Park, along with the notice that trails around Brockton Oval would be closed for the public’s safety while Conservation Officers carried out the removal of the habituated coyotes.
Our Co-Existing with Coyotes reporting system received reports from different joggers being chased by single coyotes in late December. By the New Year, coyotes were reported to have bitten people – all joggers – unprovoked or not previously interacted with. Other aggressive encounters were reported to the Conservation Officer Service (COS) and, based on these accounts, the officers made the difficult decision to remove and euthanise the coyotes. In the end, they removed two individuals that fit the reports’ descriptions, however, the problem behind this coyote behaviour remains in the Park.
Wildlife feeding in Stanley Park is a significant issue and is believed to have caused this escalation of negative coyote behaviour. Wildlife fed by humans become all things we despair to see in them: unhealthy, dependent, listless, and possibly aggressive. The “rewards” of easily-sourced food are greatly outweighed by behavioural changes they undergo, and we end up debilitating a wild animal for the rest of its life. Secondary impacts include compromising their habitats with rotting food, unintentionally feeding other dangerous wildlife, and indirectly causing harm to another person if a fed animal learns to be aggressive.
These recent events have been sad and challenging; however, it has highlighted the need for a greater and more cohesive effort from Park staff and visitors towards addressing the issue of wildlife feeding. You may see SPES staff conducting public outreach in key areas to spread the word as much as we can!
We have also received a few questions about why relocation was not the outcome, rather than euthanizing. While relocation may seem like a more humane option for the animals in question, there are a few issues to keep in mind:
- At the point the Conservation Officer Service (COS) decide that euthanizing is necessary in a case of wildlife aggression, it is because the animals have become so habituated that they will more willingly approach people and even harm them. Relocating will place these habituated animals as a risk for people living in the new location, and doesn’t solve the problem behind the animals’ behaviour.
- Even if a less urban/human-populated area is chosen for relocation, this then puts the animals themselves at risk. They are urban wildlife—specialists in an urban habitat—and have learned to depend on people for food. Additionally, coyotes are territorial. Relocating them in a “wilder” place could be a death sentence by placing them in territories of pre-existing coyotes (that will see the new coyotes as threats, not friends), or in the way of predators like wolves, bears, or cougars. Or they might simply starve to death.
This is why the most humane option when a coyote has become irreversibly habituated is to euthanise them, and make extra efforts to reinforce healthy boundaries with the remaining coyotes.