Living with Wildlife

Get to know the wildlife on campus

The University of Calgary has been home to many wildlife species for decades. Living with Wildlife is a flagship model of co-existence with wildlife, providing our university family and surrounding neighbourhoods with accurate and timely information, education and safety guidelines. This mandate enhances a sustainable approach while minimizing human and wildlife conflict.

Photo by: Dr. Dianne L. Draper, PhD, Department of Geography

31st Annual Emerald Awards Finalist Badge

Wildlife Co-Existence Outreach Program

This program aims to empower communities to prevent conflict and foster positive relationships with all wildlife.

Interested in learning more or having your community host a free virtual webinar? 

Contact Dr. Shelley Alexander

Coexistence with Wildlife

Conflict with wildlife is preventable. These four cornerstones help ensure safety for humans and wildlife.

Prevention

Working in multi-linked partnerships, monitoring wildlife behaviour and changes and establishing a hierarchy of response.

Education

Messaging must align with current science and best practices that foster healthy and safe communities for people and animals.

Enforcement

Partnerships with campus security for incidents with wildlife and accountability for garbage, leash and feeding bylaws.

Mitigation

Using field evidence to determine the causes of incidents with wildlife and integrating the best response: area closures, education signs, and humane hazing of coyotes if required.

Wildlife on Campus

A coyote caught on camera.

Coyotes

Coyotes (Canis Iatrans) are part of the family Canidae, which also includes foxes, wolves, and domestic dogs.  Having evolved on the North American continent over 1 million years ago, coyotes have become very resilient: they replenish their numbers quickly, can consume many different food sources, and are highly adaptable to new situations. As well, coyotes can live alone, in pairs and in family groups; they form strong bonds and are immensely protective of their offspring. These points underscore coyotes’ ability to survive in urban environments and highlight why they get into conflict with people.  

Scientific research shows that the risk of negative encounters between coyotes and people is very low, that killing coyotes does not solve co-existence problems, and that most conflict is preventable by increasing awareness of factors that lead to conflict and reinforcing human actions that support co-existence. 

Learn more about coyotes

Our UCalgary researchers with the Canid Conservation Science Lab have been studying coyote ecology, behaviour, conflict with humans and pets, health, human dimensions and co-existence strategies since 2005. Through the dedication of faculty, staff, students, citizens and volunteers, we have developed an evidence-based adaptive coyote coexistence program on our UCalgary campus, and we have achieved the broadest suite of scientific research about coyotes in Canada.

At UCalgary we have used scientific evidence to inform our Living with Wildlife coexistence program, which promotes a healthy, diverse, and sustainable ecosystem of wildlife and people on campus. A hallmark of our Living with Wildlife program is mobilizing science into education to support coexistence efforts of communities in Calgary, as well as across North America.

Coyotes Promote Healthy Ecosystems

Coyotes provide humans with important ecosystem services, such as rodent control and carrion removal. In some studies, coyotes have been found to play a vital, ‘keystone’ species roles. As keystones, coyotes have positive impacts across all trophic levels in the urban ecosystem – from other carnivores to smaller prey species, and plants. Coyotes in Calgary show a direct effect on all trophic levels, feeding primarily on small mammals, birds and insects, they also eat various plant species, especially those bearing fruit (saskatoon berry and crabapples).

Coyotes also can control the expansion of other species like racoons and skunks and can suppress some diseases of risk to humans and pets. Education and experiences play a huge role in how people respond to coyotes and whether they choose to coexist with or kill (Alexander & Draper, 2019). Understanding the benefits of coyotes in our urban ecosystems – their role of ecosystem ‘stewards’ that promote biodiversity and healthy ecosystems - can support decisions that are good for people and wildlife.

Coyote Family Life

The coyote family tends to defend territories from other unrelated coyotes. It is not uncommon for extended family members to visit, but the size of a resident family is controlled by available food and habitat.

In general, only the mated pair (mother and father) of a family will reproduce and subordinates may help raise the litter. In times of population pressure (i.e., harsh winters or killing by humans) more animals and younger animals may breed to compensate for losses in the overall population.

Although coyotes live in family groups, they tend to travel and hunt alone or in loose pairs, consuming small mammals, such as rodents. Coyotes also may hunt as a family unit, in which case they can take down larger prey like deer.

Coyote families in larger protected areas that are very prey rich (e.g., multiple food types like small ungulates, small mammals, and abundant carrion) can be as large as 8-10 animals, but typically families are much smaller. Urban coyotes, like those in Calgary, must live in smaller remnant greenspaces that are surrounded by an urban matrix; There, they live solitary, in pairs or small families (3-5 individuals).

Why killing coyotes is not a solution

Scientific evidence from various locations in North America has shown that killing coyotes does not solve conflict and is ecologically destructive. While removing coyotes may have a short-term effect of stopping a conflict, if suitable habitat remains, new coyotes will migrate into that area and if the root cause of conflict (e.g., feeding) was not addressed then conflict will re-emerge. In addition, research has shown that killing coyotes can result in greater conflict because: it disrupts coyote social systems, results in the loss of those older or key individuals who would pass coexistence knowledge to their young, can lead to more transient animals that tend to be more aggressive, and can force younger animals to breed and have larger litters in order to replenish numbers to the original level.

Research by the Canid Conservation Science Lab at UCalgary analyzed 12 years of Canadian print media reports to determine the frequency, type and preceding conditions to attacks on people and pets. Attacks are defined as an incident where a person or pet is bitten or scratched by a coyote.

That UCalgary research found that on average fewer than 3 people (2.4 people) per year were scratched or bitten by coyotes in Canada (Alexander & Quinn, 2011). This is consistent with U.S. research, which determined approximately 3 people per year were bitten by a coyote.  

As well, the researchers found 92.3% of medium to large sized dogs that were attacked by coyotes were described by owners to be “off-leash” and running after coyotes (Alexander & Quinn, 2011).  An evaluation of the bite patterns on dogs supported the previous result, showing wounds on dogs were consistent to those inflicted by coyotes defending their territory or pups against other coyotes – the wounds were not consistent with predatory biting. This is very strong evidence that leashing dogs in areas where coyotes are active is a critical step to reducing negative coyote interactions. Following the guidance of coexistence programs across Canada, we recommend that fixed leads always be used, as expandable leads contribute to attacks on dogs by all wildlife.

Finally, observations show that small dogs can be viewed as prey if they are running off-leash or on extendable leads (Alexander & Quinn, 2011). However, it was observed that in cases where small dogs were attacked by coyotes, if the human intervened and ran at the coyote, the dog was dropped and survived in 50% of the cases.  Leaving small dogs unattended increases the risk they may be predated by a variety of wildlife (owls, eagles, foxes, bobcats, and coyotes).

Our UCalgary research on the spatial and temporal patterns of conflict with coyotes in Calgary was the first of its kind in Canada (Lukasik & Alexander, 2011), and showed that true conflict represents a very small portion of coyote encounters. 

In that research, fewer than 5% of reported incidents involve a person or pet being followed or a pet being bitten. There were reports of coyotes biting dogs, and coyotes killing cats and small dogs in Calgary, but serious negative encounters between people and coyotes were rare: No medium or large size dogs were killed by coyotes in Calgary at that time, and there had been only one event (2005) where two children were bitten by a coyote in Confederation Park (CBC Broadcasting). While a rare occurrence, this event was significant because it marked a change in human perception towards coyotes in Calgary.

Through UCalgary research, we identified two critical pieces of information about coyote conflict in Calgary:

  1. Coyote conflict reports are significantly higher at two times in the year:
    1. the pup rearing season (April-June), when coyotes are in dens with pups
    2. the dispersal period (September-November), when young, relatively uneducated animals are leaving their family for the first time.
  2. Neighbourhoods with greater conflict was reported in Calgary, where also areas where coyotes were found to eat more garbage and human sources of food (including deliberate feeding), which yields strong evidence that a coyote problem, like a bear problem, is the result of human behaviour. 

Why is food conditioning and habituation important to prevent?

Across Canada and the U.S., people have deliberately provided food to wildlife and coyotes: some people like to keep wildlife near their homes and will put out attractants to see the animals. Other people feel sorry for wild animals and will leave food out to keep them alive. Others still may accidentally feed coyotes (e.g., garbage or bird seed). We call this type of food attractants.

Researchers across the globe agree that when wild carnivores spend too much time around people, they can become habituated and can quickly lose their fear of people.  When coyotes are also dependent upon human sources of food, they can become food conditioned.  It is a well-known, scientifically proven fact that habituated, food conditioned wild animals of many kinds are more likely to get into conflict with people and pets. 

The more time coyotes spend around people, the less they fear them, but it is the deliberate or accidental feeding that creates a situation where the coyote may depend on human food or protect a human food source from a dog or person.

What are some common attractants?  

  • birdseed
  • pet food
  • free roaming pets
  • feral rabbits
  • poorly stored garbage or compost
  • back alley gardens
  • restaurant grease bins or garbage disposal
  • food provided for other wildlife like rabbits, deer or birds of prey
  • People in Calgary also have been found to directly feed coyotes meat or other food (Lukasik & Alexander, 2012)

Scientific research also indicates that successful coexistence programs MUST enforce the removal of attractants and stop feeding by people. This is the most critical aspect of a coexistence plan, alongside education and monitoring – these can prevent and minimize conflict and the need to use hazing.  Hazing without the removal of attractants will not realize coexistence.

If you encounter a coyote nearby, attempt to avoid conflict by widening the gap between you and the coyote:

The instant that a coyote is detected (especially those with dogs) you should widen the gap.  Do not stare at the coyote, do not allow your dog to stare at the coyote, keep your pets on a short leash and kids close, walk away if you can or walk far around; keep moving away and never walk towards or try to pass nearby the coyote. 

If you are approached by a coyote or feel concerned for your safety, there are some basic rules to follow to help avoid or de-escalate the encounter. Usually coyotes will move away from you if you give them the space.

  • STOP: Pick up children and small pets if necessary   
  • STAND STILL: Never run from a coyote, fox or dog 
     
  • MAKE YOURSELF BIG: Arms in the air and clap, pop umbrella, snap plastic bag 
     
  • BE LOUD AND ASSERTIVE: Shout “Go Away!”, stomp your feet, never scream
     
  • BACK AWAY: Always widen the gap. Be assertive as you leave, if need be, to ensure the animal knows it is not welcome  

Download the Coyote Rules Sheet

Reducing conflict with coyotes during denning and pup rearing

From May through July, coyotes are first looking after pups in the den, then moving pups to a secondary den or settling in at a rendezvous site (i.e., a site where the coyotes gather each day and pups may always be present or may move with adult coyotes at night and return early the next day).

When humans with dogs, and rarely humans alone, get too close to coyote dens or their pups, this can cause coyotes to become very fearful and protective of their young. This fear creates significant stress for adult coyotes whose job is to produce, raise and protect their young.

Humans should not try to condition, train or force coyotes to stop using aggression to protect their young; using aggression to protect pups is normal aggression. 

Coyotes typically will not attack dogs immediately but will give warning signs that humans should pay attention to.

  • In a normal situation, coyotes will first come out, stand or lay down and stare at the human and dog. That is your cue to leave or move far away (over 100 m if possible).
  • If a human with their dog does not leave the location immediately the coyote will feel more threatened and will feel it ‘speak’ more loudly (e.g. growling, barking).
  • If the coyote cannot make the human and dog leave, then it’s fear will increase and it may escalate aggression, and ‘bluff charge’ and ‘bark howl’. 
  • When people continue to stand, stare, approach, or let the dog investigate or walk forward that continues to escalate the situation and make the coyotes sense of urgency intense. The coyote may do a ‘threat gape’, in which it arches its back and hiss and snap or some combination of all of the above in a desperate attempt to make you go away. After that, the coyote will bite your dog.

Be aware: When you leave areas upon encountering a coyote during denning or pup rearing time, one or more coyotes may follow a person and dog for some distance before they stop and lie down or return to their pups.  This behaviour is called ‘escorting’ and they are moving you out of the ‘home or den site’.  This commonly is reported as ‘stalking’, when it is in fact not predatory.  These types of events are the most reported negative encounter with coyotes in the months of May-July.  Learn to be aware and help avoid such negative encounters. 

Coyotes are a natural part of the ecosystem. It is up to humans to de-escalate conflict during denning and pup rearing times – move away efficiently, calmly and with purpose. Coyotes are evolutionarily programmed to protect their pups – it is not humane or effective to attempt to remove that instinct through hazing, harassment or standing your ground.