Wageningen University: Coyote ‘hazing’ works to deter close encounters in neighbourhoods: study

Deterring coyotes from urban neighbourhoods — a practice called aversive conditioning — appears to work, according to a recent field study by a master’s student in biology at the University of Alberta.

Gabrielle Lajeunesse worked with 76 volunteers in 28 Edmonton neighbourhoods, training them in aversive conditioning techniques, such as approaching coyotes while shouting and throwing tennis balls weighted with sand.

Many North American cities including Edmonton recommend aversive conditioning as a humane way to manage bold urban coyotes.

Most of the coyotes observed in her study — about 80 per cent — would retreat and leave the area when simply approached by volunteers.

“So even without aversive conditioning, they left when people approached them,” she said, adding that the five coyotes that were subjected to aversive conditioning stayed away for an average of about 37 days, compared with about 10 days for coyotes that were not.

Though her results are preliminary and will be followed up by another field season next year, Lajeunesse said the findings so far are consistent with similar community programs conducted in Denver, Colo., where 84 per cent of coyotes retreated from a hazing event.

Urban coyotes have become more common and more brazen in recent years, with large populations in most Canadian cities including Edmonton, according to Lajeunesse’s supervisor, Colleen Cassady St. Clair, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and director of the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project.

Coyotes rarely attack people, said Lajeunesse, and more often pursue pets, rummage through garbage and birdseed, and seek out dens under porches and decks.

However, there were a number of coyote bites reported in Calgary last summer, and Vancouver’s Stanley Park was forced to close after 45 people reported being nipped or bitten in the park between December 2020 and early last September.

A zoonotic parasite called Echinococcus multilocularis has also been detected in urban coyotes in Edmonton, posing a threat to public health. And according to a recent study by Cassady St. Clair, eating human food may also have a detrimental effect on the health of urban coyotes.

During the course of Lajeunesse’s study, volunteers would patrol their neighbourhoods looking for coyote attractants, such as compost, unsecured garbage, fruit trees, birdseed and shelters.

They were also asked to record the “overt reaction distance” at which a coyote will react negatively to the presence of an approaching person and flee — typically about 40 metres.

“In treatment neighbourhoods, when coyotes get to 40 metres and stay there or approach the volunteer, that’s when they’d conduct aversive conditioning.”

After a total of 569 hours patrolling, volunteers reported 64 coyote observations, five aversive conditioning incidents following a specific protocol, and 353 attractants, she said. Most sightings were in Terwillegar Towne, Lynnwood, Griesbach, Parkallen and Inglewood.

Though some volunteers were skeptical of the program at first, most said they would like to participate again next year.

“They definitely appreciated it,” said Lajeunesse. “They liked being able to participate in wildlife management and learn more about coyotes.

“We’re really hoping that by next field season, we’ll accumulate more conditioning events and confirm our findings thus far.”

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