Coyotes in the city




Although Canada has a rich history, people do not usually come here to admire its historic cities, as they often do in other parts of the world, from Great Britain over Iraq to Japan. Instead, Canada is known all over the world for its large expanses and breathtakingly beautiful nature.

That should not come as a surprise, since most of the country is essentially uninhabited. The large majority of the population lives in a small ribbon not much wider than a 100 km along the American border.

Cities in this region are modern, highly industrialised and urbanised, and nature often seems as far away as it would be in any European city. Make no mistake, however. Nature is often surprisingly close, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Canada’s largest city, Toronto.

Although it is possible to live in Toronto, and hardly see anything besides streets, houses, high-rises and the occasional manicured city park or parkette, real nature is usually only steps away for those who are looking for it, thanks to Toronto’s so-called urban wildernesses. Wildlife uses those wildernesses to navigate throughout the city, largely unseen by humans.

This wildlife sometimes spills over into parts of the city populated by humans. Even for the most occasional visitor, squirrels are hard to ignore, but there is more. While tourists will not often encounter raccoons on Bay Street and even less inside the Eaton Centre, they are nevertheless here, and even in such large numbers, that world-renowned zoologist David Suzuki [01] called Toronto the world’s raccoon capital in the documentary Raccoon Nation [02].

An animal that most people would probably not expect to have a close encounter with on Toronto’s streets, is the coyote or prairie-wolf. These animals are nevertheless known to live and breed successfully in Toronto’s parks, such as the internationally recognised Tommy Thompson Park [03].

It was precisely on my way home from that park that I had a very personal encounter with a coyote. I was bicycling home when I met a coyote on the bike path. It was an encounter so close that I had to actually zoom out to be able to take pictures when it approached me. A warning is in its place here: this was an experience that squarely belongs into the do-not-do-this-at-home category.

Although coyotes are normally very timid creatures that avoid humans whenever possible, they can and sometimes do attack humans [04], and not all these attacks are survived by the victims.

In this case, the wise thing to do would have been to cross the street as soon as I saw the animal. I did not. That was not smart, because when the animal came closer, we were essentially trapped together, and had to pass each other at about 1 metre distance before it became possible to get further away again.

It seems clear, also from the pictures and the video I took, that the animal was merely travelling from where it came to where it was going and had no aggressive intentions, just like me, but an encounter like this can indeed turn ugly very easily.

While unnerving, the encounter was –of course- a wonderful experience. Due to the low light conditions, the pictures and the video are not as sharp as they could have been, but they certainly give a good impression of this beautiful beast, that is sadly still hunted for its fur [05].

References
[01] David Suzuki’s biography, David Suzuki Foundation, retrieved 1 April 2012
[02] Raccoon nation, Canadian Broadcasting Company, retrieved 1 April 2012
[03] Mammals of Tommy Thompson Park, retrieved 1 April 2012
[04] Attacks on humans, Wikipedia, retrieved 1 April 2012
[05] Coyote fur blanket, the Bay, retrieved 1 April 2012

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14 comments to Coyotes in the city

  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele

    Hi Craig, I don’t know any hot spots for red foxes in Toronto, except maybe for High Park. A few years ago, a number of red foxes were hanging around the little zoo there. For the rest, all my encounters (no more than a handful) have been entirely fortuitous.

  • Craig

    Hey Bart, I don’t see many Red Foxes around, haven’t seen one since last December 2011. Do you know where the hot spots are for them in Toronto?
    Maybe we can post some pics of some???
    I think the Coyotes have gotten rid of a lot of Red Foxes.

  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele

    I agree completely. We would have far less coyote (and raccoon and fox and bear and what-have-you) attacks if we gave these animals a space to live, and I don’t mean a garden here, and a shed there, but large uninterrupted spaces through which they can move and migrate as nature has made them. The renaturalised areas of Toronto are an effort to do exactly that. But not everyone understands or wants to understand that. Another good example of this is racing cyclists. They race along the trails as though they are highways. As a result, they are a hazard to wildlife and people alike.

  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele

    I am talking about the “sinister Harper government”, because they don’t give a damn about our environment and would probably just replace the whole Canadian tundra and high arctic with asphalt parking lots and industry if they could. The problem with the Harper government is precisely that they do not pay attention to what the scientists (including the government scientists) are telling them, and they are doing whatever they can to muzzle the scientists. That includes, apparently, personal threats. One example of the “unethics” of Harper, is that he is promoting the sale of Canadian asbestos to the rest of the world, while he is having it removed from his own residence.

    There are a lot of answers we don’t have, and we must therefore be careful. However, we know that the Harper way isn’t the way, since that’s what got us (and nature) into trouble in the first place.

    I do agree that we cannot compare urban life with rural life. I was too chicken to let myself go down on my tummy to take some pictures of the coyote, who am I to diss someone who comes eye to eye with a polar bear? However, the recent story of the police officer who shot a coyote at Cherry beach is beyond the limits of credibility. This was almost certainly a police officer who got trigger-happy. Learning to live with wildlife is not the same as shooting every living non-human that comes within a hundred metre radius of a human.

    As for wolves, I tend to be protective of them. For some reason, they are a hated animal. Even in regions where they have been reintroduced after they were extirpated, they are hated and persecuted. But its not only them. Attempts to reintroduce bears in the French Pyrenees are being hampered by sheep herders who want to destroy them. That’s -in a way- the urban/rural divide. Nature is brutal, and city dwellers don’t always realise that, and only come up in arms when a coyote eats their little pooch that should not have been let outside in the first place.

    Killing wildlife is a touchy subject for me. Killing in general is. I’m no vegetarian, nor am I a vegan. I eat meat. The animals I eat have been slaughtered. Not by me, but since I eat them, I am every bit as responsible -perhaps more- than those who do the killing. Blood is on my hands. But, that is nature, isn’t it. That’s what evolution has done, and -hopefully- will continue to do.

    The point I am trying to make, and am defending is this: there are 7 billion of us. Enough already. Reality is that this is too many. We will not solve nature’s problems by culling wolves to give elk or caribou or even rare slugs a reprieve. We will solve nature’s problems by decreasing our use of open space or, at the very least, by allowing nature to “just be” in large enough areas, that take into account migration routes that have been used for times immemorial.

    I *do* advocate paying farmers for loss of livestock killed by wolves and foxes and coyotes and bears and what-have-you. But, I’d be far happier, if this weren’t necessary, and to make this a reality, there is only one choice: humans must stop breeding like rats. Until we can finally reduce our fertility, we must -rather urgently- look for better methods to feed ourselves, a major challenge, and let’s not even think about energy supply. Paying farmers for loss of livestock may seem silly, but it is -in my view- the price we urbanites have to pay for having driven urbanization too far. It makes life more expensive. Sure. But think of the alternative. We know so little of the complex interactions in nature.

    Just one example: who thought that bringing cows to North America would help lead to the demise of birds? Yet, that’s exactly what is happening. Because we brought our cows to North America, cowbirds no longer have to migrate with the herds. Instead, they are destroying large parts of the local birds, making them one of the most hated birds among conservationists. What do we do now? Kill the cowbirds? Or find a way to make our cows less attractive to them?

  • Craig

    Bart,

    You are right, they should stop people from letting their dogs off leash all over the city especially down there in the Don. Absolutely careless. People treat such wildlife areas in the city as if it is a park of their own.

    Yes, keep the people out of the coyote habitats and tell them to find a new place to walk their dog. Right there you will cut your attacks on dogs by a good margin.

  • Craig

    I partly agree with you Bart. But: “Sinister Harper Government”. I don’t know about that. I’m sure there are the appropriate biologists in place to give the Government info on the benefits of a wolf hunt or “cull”. Politicians don’t really have deep wildlife knowledge on their own inmost cases as individuals, and they rely mostly on scientists and biologists for their input on such matters.

    Living in Toronto, I must say we are detached from reality to say the very least. In no way let us compare urban and rural life as being equal. Living in the “bush” as some people call it is not city life where the occasional office worker will venture into a trail for a hike here in the city.

    Bart, Wolves kill a surplus of prey beyond what they need to survive. They will kill Elk, Caribou, Deer for fun….YES!
    Caribou, and Elk are fragile in Ontario. There are not that many of them. They’ve only had 1 season so far on Elk for hunting, cause they are in the beginning of their establishment in Ontario.

    I realize “killing” wildlife is a touch subject for you. But what goes on in the rural areas as far as wolf or any predator hunt is not really our area to tamper in. We have no business in doing so. They have the issues, let them deal with it and we deal with our own here in the city.

    The amount of money in Ontario paid to livestock farmers from coyote and wolf predation cost the Taxpayer each year, it is not fair either.

  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele

    From a natural history point of view, it seems rather simple: our pets do not belong here, they are invasive species. As such, the more enemies they have in the natural environment, the better it is. If we don’t want our cats and dogs to be eaten by local predators, including coyotes, we should keep our pets inside, not kill the coyotes.

    Yes, I know the story of the little girl. I also know the story of the policeman. I have grave doubts about his story. He may indeed have felt threatened. He may also have been a tad trigger-happy. Coyotes are beautiful animals, they are native, they have every right to be here. If fairness is important, we can’t on the one hand ask from people in India, that they allow their loved ones to be gobbled up by tigers, while we on the other hand, happily kill any animal that does anything remotely unpleasant to us.

    As for people giving food to coyotes and raccoons and any other animals, I agree. It is irresponsible from those who do it. However, killing animals for accepting handouts from people who have been told time and again not to do that, is like killing a rape victim instead of sentencing the rapist. Punishing the victim is about as unethical as it gets.

    Humans must finally learn to live in harmony with the local wildlife. Yes, there will be “accidents” once in a while. That is also true for driving cars. We don’t kill motorists when they cause accidents. Neither should we kill coyotes or raccoons or squirrels or any other, lest we get to painful situations like the ones the sinister Harper government is now advocating: killing wolves to protect caribou, which makes no sense whatever.

  • Craig

    Coyotes are predators and not to be taken lightly. Since there are no “harvests” of these animals in Toronto, their populations will continue to grow and there will be more conflicts with people in years to come. We already see it with dogs getting attacked and killed, what about the 8 year old girl playing in her backyard in Oakville, Ontario in January of this year who was bitten by a coyote that hoped her backyard fence. The young girl had to undergo unnecessary rabies shots. Not really fair a young child should have all these potentially dangerous chemicals injected in her system. Just last week a Toronto Cop shot a coyote down on Unwin Avenue where you like to frequent. Cop said he saw it circling him and not going away. Obviously not scared of people.
    City of Toronto is ABSOLUTELY IRRESPONSIBLE in allowing a surplus of wildlife to roam near residential neighborhoods as they know there are a surplus of them and this leads to food stress so they look to people for food handouts. We see it with raccoons, we now see it with coyotes.

  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele

    Same here. We lived “op den buiten” in Damme, and while I most certainly did enjoy my walks, the largest wild critter I’d ever seen was a hare, twice. I see more diverse wildlife downtown Toronto.

  • Elke

    I am really fascinated about all the wildlife that I ‘ve already seen while living here (1,5 year now)! I used to live “op den buiten”, but I never had that much different animals in my backyard as now, living in suburbia!

  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele

    That was one lucky little gal/guy!

    As for the raccoons, they didn’t seem bothered in the beginning, but as I started to follow them consistently, they often made attempts at making me go away. One attacked me by grabbing on to my shoe and biting it. It was quite a job to make it loosen its grip. Raccoons have strong teeth and strong claws. These are animals not to be trifled with. They could severely injure a human should they so choose.

    Tommy Thompson Park is wonderful. It really is, even more so because it is so close to downtown, making a visit there a surreal experience. Seeing animals running around, going about their business, while looking at the Toronto skyline, probably less than a kilometre away, is just fascinating.

    Just don’t be fooled by my postings. While honest, in the sense that nothing is added or embellished, most of the experiences are quite rare. For example, this coyote encounter. It happened on my way home from the park, so it didn’t actually happen in the park. I had one vaguely similar experience on Unwin Avenue (along the park, but not quite *in* it) about six and a half years ago. Since then, all I have ever seen there, coyote-wise, were two ears sticking out from the vegetation, and a few coyotes “singing” (it sounded too friendly to call it howling) in total darkness at night. Both happened once, and once only.

    So, from a coyote perspective, these encounters were one-of-a-kind, extremely unlikely to happen to anyone. However, if a visitor is ready to consider *any* animal encounter as worthwhile, chances are pretty good that something will pop up during a random visit.

  • Elke

    I have seen 2 dead oppossums. :-( And a couple of days ago, I nearly killed one myself when I was driving home at about 9pm. It came out of the ditch, luckily I saw him (her?) comming!

    Hahaha, you walking around at night, following these raccoons. They didn’t bother that you were there? I have the impression that they are a little bit shy, but not a lot because, if I see them in the evening, and they notice me, they just stay put but they don’t go away. And they are observing me as well as I am observing them.

    But I really really need to visit Tommy Thompson Park!

  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele

    It was indeed a wonderful experience. The only regret I have is that it was quite dark, because it was late in the day, and because it was an altogether gloomy day as well. As a result, the pictures are not quite as sharp as they could have been. Nevertheless, standing eye-to-eye with a coyote (the closest I came was probably a little over a metre) was an experience I’ll never forget. Let’s be clear though: this wasn’t by choice. If I had been able to stay further away, I would have. As you rightly say, coyote encounters can have unpleasant consequences, they are wild animals after all.

    Also, as you suggest, it is better to always have a camera handy. Easier said than done. In this case, I was lucky, because I go there to see wildlife, and to document any encounters with pictures. So, when I go to Tommy Thompson Park, I am just about guaranteed to have a camera. It is just a matter of jumping off the bike and take a shot. This can be a challenge as well, though. Very often, the animal is long gone before I am ready…

    I have over a thousand pictures of raccoons. Years ago, I followed a raccoon family all over Toronto (that was between midnight and 4 or 5 am, needless to say, many people thought I was downright nuts!) and that gave me lots of decent pictures of them. As a result, “Raccoon nation” wasn’t much of a surprise, rather a welcome confirmation of what I had observed myself.

    I am envious of your oppossums though! I have never seen an oppossum so far, even though I know that they are in Toronto, and even at Tommy Thompson Park.

    Since I am studying snake mortality, I will be out looking for wildlife almost every day until the end of the fall at least, so I am hoping to see much more.

    I hope you will see a lot more wildlife as well!

  • Elke

    What a wonderful experience this must have been!
    Here in Oakville, coyotes also not uncommon and they sometimes (attempt to) attack dogs, and even a kid a while ago.
    About a year ago, I saw my first coyote here, but I was in my car (and of course I didn’t have a camera with me, so my husband first wouldn’t believe me, until 2 days later there was an article in the local newspaper about a coyote that was wandering around exactly where I had told him I had seen it.
    Raccoons are regulars too, also in our garden. And I have never seen that much opossums as the past month!
    I whish you many more (save!!) encounters with local wildlife.

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