Coyotes, raccoons and bears, oh my!

Interactions with urban wildlife and how to stay safe

Ashley Moliere & Natalia Cuevas / February 1, 2018

The North Shore Black Bear Society received almost 300 calls reporting sightings this past year.
(WildSafeBC)

If you’ve grown up in the Lower Mainland, chances are you’ve encountered some kind of urban wildlife. Whether it be a raccoon, coyote or even a bear, sightings of these animals are quite common.

However, when and how can a simple sighting turn into a dangerous interaction? Recently stories of coyotes approaching or chasing children have been reported in the Mount Pleasant area as well as Richmond.

As Winter turns to Spring and these animals begin to breed, these interactions may become more frequent.

“We actually see more than 5,000 calls every year related to just wildlife health. People are looking for general information or help with a specific scenario often it’s urban wildlife related.” – Erin Ryan, Specialist of Research Communications, BC SPCA

Reasons for the interactions

There are many reasons why humans and wildlife can come into contact with each other in an urban setting. But, the main reason agreed upon by many who work with wildlife closely is food. Erin Ryan with the BC SPCA stated they always say not to feed wildlife intentionally or unintentionally.

“Making sure your garbage cans are secure, your compost bins are secure, keeping any people or pet food indoors, making sure that you clean up fallen fruit or pick your fruit when it becomes ripe on your trees, cleaning up spilled bird feed or installing wildlife-proof bird feeders…” – Erin Ryan, Specialist of Research Communications, BC SPCA

Similarly, the Coordinator for Co-Existing with Coyotes, Madeleine Irving Chan, said there have been many calls in recent months about coyote sightings and nearly all of them have to do with people feeding the animals.

“It always comes down to someone feeding them in the neighbourhood. Sometimes they don’t mean to be feeding them, sometimes they just have say some apples or something from a tree that have fallen and they don’t bother picking them up or things like that can even attract coyotes and that is actually feeding them so that’s when they start to lose their fear of people and become more bold.” – Madeleine Irving Chan, Coordinator of Co-Existing with Coyotes

Former SFU student Lauren French said this raccoon stole a clothing item before scurrying off.
(Lauren French)

When it comes to bears, they are no exception to the food rule. Education Coordinator for North Shore Black Bear Society, Luci Cadman, said bears have an exceptional memory when it comes to food and often become more bold and territorial once they find a good source. Provincial Coordinator for WildSafeBC, Vanessa Isnardy, also reiterated this point.

“All wildlife need four basic things: food, water, shelter and space. Wildlife is drawn into communities when they can satisfy those basic needs. Bears will be attracted by the smell of food and if they successfully gain access without consequence, they will learn that behaviour and repeat it.” – Vanessa Isnardy, Provincial Coordinator for WildSafeBC

WildSafeBC says 60% of their calls regarding black bears have to do with garbage.
(WildSafeBC)

Another reason for encountering wildlife in the city: our ever-changing urban landscape. Associate Professor of Biology at UBC Okanagan, Adam Ford, said animals are finding it harder and harder to tell the difference between green space and residential areas.

“We have to think of how a city is embedded in the larger landscape. Cities, even though they have municipal boundaries, they don’t really have ecological boundaries in the same way.” – Adam Ford, Assistant Professor of Biology at UBC Okanagan

Erin Ryan of the BC SPCA stated generally as more development occurs and pushes green spaces away, the more wildlife are trying to find new niches to live.

“What we have found is that more and more, wildlife conflicts become more common as urban developments spread to natural habitats so places like the Lower Mainland which are BC’s densest places of living we tend to see a lot of conflicts with wildlife just because we’re so in their space for lack of a better word.” – Erin Ryan, Specialist of Research Communications, BC SPCA

The image above shows the development of West Vancouver over 84 years and how far up the mountain houses are being built. According to the North Shore Bear Society, the Conservation Officer Society received 534 calls about bear sightings for the 2017-2018 year. The COS also received 123 calls regarding coyote sightings in that same time period.  

Close encounters

Port Moody resident Nadika Nowak Perera lives in what some might call a “high traffic” area for urban wildlife. Her and her husband have installed cameras around the house and often get notifications of animal activity near their front door.

“Bears come more frequently during spring/summer (or last year during the warmer fall months)…I would say about once a week for sure. Raccoons also tend to come more often once we have started to plant seeds or once any fruits are ripe; our neighbours have grapevines and we often heard the raccoons at night trying to get to the fruit.” – Nadika Nowak Perera, Port Moody resident

Even though they see urban wildlife frequently, Nowak Perera said they have never had a negative encounter with an animal and are very diligent about wildlife-proofing their home and yard.

“We keep our garbage in the garage until collection day…we also try to keep the bins clean so that there is no smell that might attract animals. We do not have any fruit trees or plants that plant/grow any type of fruits as it may attract bears or other wildlife.” — Nadika Nowak Perera, Port Moody resident

She said they also only keep bird feeders out of reach and only have them out in the Winter months.

(Nadika’s camera captured this video August 27th, 2018)

Literally saw a coyote on the street just off Main and King Ed last week while walking. It was night time, about 11:30. Fluffy guy, just walked away from us in the street.

Alicia Parker-Sutton

We had a black bear go into our garage a few years ago! He helped himself to a tub of butter and ate it on our lawn. He rummaged through cans but didn’t knock anything over. I happened to be walking home when he went in so I stopped and called my mom to warn her.

Nicki Kidd

My friend had a sandwich in his bag and he took it out for a second, at that point the scent was in the air, so it might as well have been game over. The raccoons popped out and at this point no food was showing. He had put his sandwich back in his bag. I guess they are crafty little buggers. One raccoon came up to him and my friend shooed the little trash panda away…but I guess it really wanted the sandwich. So it tries again, my friend shoes it away then starts to walk away. The little bandit scales my friends legs and starts trying to get into his back pack to get to the sandwich. So obviously he’s screaming and scared since this wild animal is on his back trying to mug him for his PB&J. He dropped his back pack and just ran away.

Tyler Dalhuisen

I was on my way to work and I opened the garage. I forgot something so I went back inside for less than a minute. When I came out, I locked the door and a young bear came around the corner into the garage. I screamed and scared him and he left. I booked it up the driveway to the car and didn’t see him.

Sam Knott

At my apartment last year I had a little deck right off my bedroom where they (raccoons) used to come and hang out, 3 of them at a time, even one baby (so cute!). They’d usually wake me up at midnight and I’d try to shine a light or make a noise to get them to leave but they were quite adamant to make my little deck their home. But one time a lil’ guy put his hand on my glass door to the deck right where I was on the other side. It was a very E.T- hand touching moment!

Jessica Leckman

Only time I’ve been actually scared/attacked by a bear was when I was walking home from a friend’s house late at night. It’s a long street in the back roads of Maple Ridge with maybe 3 street lights for the whole thing. I walked it so many times it didn’t bother me and if I did see an animal I’d go wide and give it space. That night I kept hearing a noise to the side of me and it’s forest on both sides with long driveways to the houses. I was getting a little spooked but kept walking and thought I heard something directly behind me so I stopped and looked, saw nothing, turned back around and big fat raccoon was standing in front of me. It scared me because I wasn’t expecting it but it continued on with its business and I kept walking. Then the noises started happening again. So I stopped, turned around, and nothing, went to walk again and I’m like 10 feet away from one of the biggest black bears I’ve ever seen. I just stopped dead in my tracks. I knew being that close it could either go two ways so I stood my ground looked at it and yelled get lost. It acted like it was just going to take off but then it started charging at me and I ran. Thankfully, a guy in a truck was pulling out of his driveway and saw what was going on and drove up to me hoping to scare the bear but that bear wanted to get me good. I ended up jumping onto the side of the truck and holding on while he hightailed it out of there. He didn’t stop until I was almost home just to make sure the bear was actually gone. From that night on if I ever had to go on that road I always rode a bike just in case.

Danielle Drake

We had a coyote in our backyard that unfortunately we didn’t see until we walked through the gate. It was going nuts trying to figure out how to get out. I’ve literally never ran back to my truck so fast in my life!

Shelley Johal

 My old neighbours would feed this full family of raccoons back in the day. Once they moved out the raccoons all shifted over to my house and yard. Since we didn’t feed them they started to tear through our trash and eventually into our roof. We had to get trap doors and all to keep them out the house. Much love to my raccoon brethren though. Wherever you are!

Shakwan Ghulam

Tracking urban wildlife and why it’s difficult

There are many agencies that are working to track sightings and interactions with different types of urban wildlife but it’s not as easy as it seems.

Professor Adam Ford said the system for reporting wildlife sightings is usually not a scientific approach but rather a law enforcement or public safety approach and that those two worlds have not meshed. Ford said the scientific community is working to fix this so that the data is more streamline.

“The other part is, how can we transform the system of reporting these events so that we can do better monitoring and management of urban wildlife.” – Adam Ford, Assistant Professor of Biology at UBC Okanagan 

Provincial Coordinator for WildSafeBC, Vanessa Isnardy, agreed that the tracking is not consistent enough to see it as scientifically rigorous. Isnardy said they do get reports but it’s usually when property is damaged, if pets or livestock are killed or if someone is injured by an animal.  She said smaller interactions or sightings aren’t reported enough.

 “…these are a small subset of human-wildlife interactions. As raccoons are not classified as dangerous wildlife, reports of conflict are even harder to gauge.” – Vanessa Isnardy, Provincial Coordinator for WildSafeBC 

This little black bear not only climbed the homeowner’s fence, but also made his way inside the home.
(Owen Simpson)

As of late January, Education Coordinator for North Shore Black Bear Society, Luci Cadman, was out canvassing a North Vancouver neighbourhood after a bear was spotted in the area. Cadman said out of the people she spoke with, all of them had seen the bear but not reported it.

Many people don’t report wildlife activity, but from the reports that we do receive, most are bear sightings.” – Luci Cadman, Education Coordinator, North Shore Black Bear Society 

The Wildlife Alert Reporting Program or WARP tracks all kinds of wildlife sightings across the province.
(WARP)

The Stanley Park Ecology Society tracks all reports they receive about a coyote sighting or interaction on a map on their website.
(Stanley Park Ecology Society)

How to stay safe

Bears

“Black bears expel a large amount of energy attempting to avoid people, and for such large creatures, they can be incredibly quiet when searching the neighbourhood for food. Despite being active during the day, many bears travel through the neighbourhoods unnoticed.” – Luci Cadman, Education Coordinator, North Shore Black Bear Society 

However, Cadman also points out tactics like yelling or banging pots to scare bears away are not as effective as they once were and that bears have adapted to humans more and more. She said bears simply do not have enough energy to run away every time a human tries to scare them.

Coyotes

“They’re actually naturally very timid animals and naturally afraid of people so just seeing one you don’t have to worry about it. But if one was advancing on you, you want to make yourself really big, wave your arms, make yourself as loud as you can and stand your ground.” – Madeleine Irving Chan, Coordinator of Co-Existing with Coyotes

Irving Chan confirmed coyotes following people is not a sign of true aggression. She said their ears back, their teeth barred, growling and crouching down are all signs of true aggression. 

Raccoons

“Raccoons in British Columbia aren’t known to have rabies at this point. A lot of people will be afraid of that but it’s actually distemper that they see in the raccoon.”- Dan McDonald, Owner of Summit Wildlife Solutions

McDonald explained distemper as a brain disease that has symptoms similar to rabies. It causes raccoons to become blind and confused and they often become aggressive if cornered.

Even though these animals might not be inherently dangerous, here are a few simple things people can do to keep themselves and wildlife safe.