Since early May, a team of specially trained patrollers has been walking the trails of Vancouver's Stanley Park, looking for coyotes to see how they react when they come close to humans.
The patrollers — two Park Board staff members and six Stanley Park Ecology Society volunteers — are doing what's known as aversion conditioning. "Conditioning coyotes to remember that humans are not their friends," said Dana McDonald, environmental stewardship co-ordinator for the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation.
It's the latest measure in the city's biggest park to curb coyotes from biting humans.
Patrollers, who wear armbands with the word 'volunteer' or a yellow symbol to keep a low profile so coyotes don't get habituated to their appearance, record observations of how the animals react when in close proximity.
If the animal lingers, patrollers make noise, or advance toward it until it bounds off.
In 70 patrols over the past six weeks, there have only been two encounters. In both instances the coyote ran away after patrollers made loud noises or shook a can with coins in it.
"So that's a really good sign that tells us that coyotes are wary of humans in the park right now," said McDonald.
McDonald and others say they are "cautiously optimistic" that the aversion conditioning program and other changes made in Stanley Park since last September are collectively solving a problem that caught many people by surprise.
Forty-five people, including children, reported being bitten or nipped by a coyote between December 2020 and late August of 2021.
After repeated warnings to the public to not feed wild animals in the park, not to leave garbage around and not to visit the park at night, the province stepped in with the cull as a last resort. Four animals were destroyed while seven had been killed by conservation officers prior to the park closure.
McDonald says many measures discussed last year are in place, such as the aversion conditioning, large signs and animal-proof garbage cans.
She said about 20 per cent of garbage receptacles in the park have been either replaced or retrofitted, with the rest to change this summer.
Park users CBC News have spoken with in the past about their experiences with coyotes say they are seeing less waste littering trails and at sites such as Lost Lagoon.
Feeding tickets issued
In late October, a bylaw was passed making it illegal to feed any wildlife in any city park. The penalty is a $500 fine.
McDonald said two tickets have been issued so far this year.
Nadia Xenakis, who a year ago took on the urban wildlife programs co-ordinator job with Stanley Park Ecology Society, which runs a program called Co-existing With Coyotes, said all the measures have helped stop the attacks.
"I think people are all starting to understand that we're all a collective group that needs to solve this problem," she said.
Coyotes will always be there
Both Xenakis and McDonald say that coyotes will always live in Stanley Park as it's the ideal habitat for them.
A map recording all coyote sightings reported to the Stanley Park Ecology Society shows that since January of this year, there have been close to 100 sightings reported in and around Stanley Park, but no aggressive interactions, with only a few reports of the animals acting defensively during breeding season.
Xenakis wants people to know what to do if they encounter a coyote in the park, and that observing it, taking pictures of it, or leaving food for it will only reinforce to the animals that it's OK to be close to humans.
"So when you do something novel that's kind of jarring to them, like making a loud noise or approaching quickly or just kind of responding in a way that's not passive, it reinforces that we don't want them very close to us," she said
People can report any aggressive coyote behaviour or feeding of coyotes to the province's RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277.