The provincial ministry responsible for wildlife in B.C. says it will place traps in Vancouver's biggest park to remove and euthanize up to 35 coyotes over a two-week period as a response to a growing number of attacks on humans.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, which is responsible for wildlife management across the province, says ongoing coyote attacks on humans, including children, and the feeding of the animals in Stanley Park has prompted the response.
Appeals to have people avoid the park and not feed the coyotes have not solved the problem, it says. There have been 45 instances of people being bitten or nipped in Stanley Park since last December.
"These actions have not been enough to ensure public safety in the park and stronger measures will now be taken," said the ministry in a statement.
This week, there were three attacks over a 24-hour period, a day after the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation began restricting access to the park to keep people away between dusk and dawn, when most attacks have happened.
Researchers have not been able to determine exactly how many coyotes live in Stanley Park.
"The total number of coyotes will be highly dependent on the numbers of animals within the park, trapping success and the reduction of aggressive interactions," said the ministry about the trapping program.
It's just one part of a larger solution, according to the ministry, which said more details would be forthcoming as early as next week.
Relocation not possible
The ministry says it wants to reduce the number of coyotes in the park overall and will hire contractors to place traps. Coyotes will be caught live and then "humanely euthanized," said the province.
The traps will be active from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. for two weeks. The ministry did not say how many traps would be placed in the park or when the trapping will begin in order to prevent people seeking out the traps and vandalizing them.
The Vancouver Park Board, which is responsible for the park itself and people who visit it, will help by installing fencing to cordon off areas of the park, which is currently closed from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily due to the coyote attacks.
The park will also have 10 rangers on patrol each night to enforce the park closure and "deter interference with set traps."
The ministry said it is not possible to capture and relocate the coyotes, because they have become "highly food-conditioned and human-habituated" from people feeding them.
It also said that the the number and severity of the attacks indicates the conditioning "is widely spread through the local population."
"The decision to lethally remove the coyotes was not the province's first choice, and only comes after considerable effort into finding other alternatives to prevent the incidents," said the statement.
'It's very disheartening'
Advocates who work to reduce conflicts between humans and wild animals say they're surprised the situation in Stanley Park has come to this.
"It is very disheartening," said Nadia Xenakis, an urban wildlife program co-ordinator for the Stanley Park Ecology Society. Since 2001, it has had a program called Co-existing With Coyotes, which she says has helped prevent attacks.
According to the society, until December last year, there had only been eight coyote attacks on humans across the Lower Mainland for the past 20 years.
Xenakis says she supports the cull, but wants people to change their behaviour in the park to not feed animals or leave garbage. She says this will ensure that new coyotes likely to move into the park from other areas won't ultimately suffer the same fate.
"My heart breaks for the people who were involved in the incidents, but I think it really speaks to our lack of ability to co-exist with wildlife right now."
Feeding animals contributes to problem
So far, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (BCCOS) has killed seven coyotes in Stanley Park: two in January, four in July and one this week, which approached officers after they shook food in a container, coming within one metre.
Officials have said for the past eight months that people feeding coyotes has contributed to the problem of the animals losing their fear of humans.
The conservation service says feeding coyotes habituates them to humans and most often results in them being killed for safety reasons.
Researchers say that feeding the coyotes, along with garbage in the park, off-trail use and even coyotes ingesting toxins such as alcohol could all factor into the attacks.
Anyone witnessing someone feeding wildlife in Stanley Park is asked to report it to the BCCOS at 1-877-952-7277. Aggressive coyote behaviour can also be reported to the same line.
Conservation officers can ticket people caught illegally feeding wildlife under B.C.'s Wildlife Act.