Coexistence means keeping wildlife wild

A coyote
A coyote (Canis latrans) looks out over a meadow.
Photo by Daniel Jara / Getty Images

Coyotes are wild animals who need to be kept wild – that’s the message of coexistence, issued regularly by The Fur-Bearers. However, our articles have prompted many questions and statements regarding what, exactly, coexistence is and isn’t.

Coexistence is Setting Boundaries

The reality that carnivores and other wildlife live in urban areas is unlikely to change. Urbanization, land-use change, and industrial development have vastly changed the landscape and ecosystems of modern-day Canada, and more growth can be expected. We will continue to see many species adapt to this. Coexistence doesn’t mean ignoring these animals or pretending they’re not present – it means setting boundaries.

Creating boundaries through hazing programs (aversive conditioning) when some species begin showing behaviour that could lead to negative encounters is essential. Including urban wildlife movement in planning and considering protected wildlife corridors is another type of boundary. A final, key boundary is enforceable policy that prevents harmful human behaviour, such as direct feeding (which is the opposite of aversive conditioning) or damage to wild areas.

Coexistence is Respecting Wildness

To see a wild animal and understand they may struggle in a changing environment is empathy, and a wonderful place from which to start. It also means respecting the natural behaviours of animals and not attempting to change  them, directly or indirectly.

Food resources provided by people – directly or indirectly – is a major facet in behavioural changes that lead to negative encounters in urban areas. Providing a food source (such as dog kibble, raw meats, or other non-native items added to the environment) changes the behaviour of many animals – including our own companions. When we have a fearful dog or nervous cat in our homes, we make ourselves smaller, quieter, and offer food. Over time, the dog or cat begin approaching their humans more and more, and this is positively reinforced by the reward of a food item. Coyotes (as well as many other species) also learn this way.

Diversionary feeding is a strategy that can be utilized in some environmental crises, but should never be done by an individual – particularly when the municipality, landowners, or other land users are unaware of it. This leads to negative encounters that frequently end in sensationalized media and killed wildlife.

Coyote pups
A group of coyote (Canis latrans) pups in Alberta.
Photo by Annie Hewitt / Getty Images

Coexistence is Always Changing

Coexistence is a daily intent that requires awareness of the many ways human activity impacts ecosystems and the wildlife within them. It’s not a title that is proclaimed and ignored; it requires regular review of existing policies and protocols for efficacy; it requires ongoing education for residents, businesses, and visitors; it requires an understanding that some tools to prevent negative encounters require refreshing or repositioning (rotating deterrents is an example).

It means being willing to take on the challenges in our community with empathy, compassion, and relying on science to inform decision-making and responses to issues.

Coexistence isn’t about cuddling coyotes or being best friends with bears; it’s about understanding the role we play in keeping wildlife wild, and ensuring that everyone in our ecosystem – including people – can thrive.

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Established in 1953, The Fur-Bearers is a charitable, non-partisan organization whose goals are to end the commercial fur trade and promote solutions for wildlife coexistence in communities. Your donation is tax-deductible. Charitable registration number: 130006125RR0002

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