Are there boundaries to urban wildlife?
A perspective on Coyotes in Calgary Communities
Christa, my wife, loves city wildlife. As a Grade 3 teacher she soaks up any opportunity to engage and share stories with her hungry bunch of learners about the natural inhabitants surrounding us. Where do they live? What is their lifecycle? What do they eat? What are their habits? What do they do to survive our harsh climate? How do they protect themselves from predators? As such, she loves to collect photos and evidence of what these life forms – from bugs to birds to beasts – do as they co-exist around us.
We were recently driving towards downtown past Nose Hill Park one winters morning. I was captivated by how the city skyscrapers appeared to be afloat in an abnormal sea of fog. In an attempt to try to capture the moment on my phone I took an unplanned detour via one of the public parking areas overlooking the city. Leaving Christa in the idling car I quickly dashed up a gravel pathway in an attempt to improve my vantage point to capture a shot of the surreal downtown view. As I got my phone ready I was aware of an off-leash, large-sized dog running along a bisecting pathway towards me. As I continued to fiddle with my phone in an attempt to get the right setting, something prompted me to switch to video mode. I found myself videoing the skyline with the unmanned dog drawing ever closer. I decided to zoom in on the canine in an effort to make it a possible feature of my video clip. As I did this I was aware of some nearby dog-walkers trying to pacify their pooch who had become decidedly agitated. It then dawned on me that this approaching lone ranger was no unleashed dog but was, instead, a coyote.
As I continued to record its approach towards me I wondered how I should respond. Should I stand still? Should I shout out? Should I run? Or should I just continue my recording? At that moment the beast noticed me, stopped for a brief instant, then continued on between myself and my nearby idling car, the occupant of which was blissfully unaware of my impending brush with nature. I’m no expert in coyotes, but as I attempted to keep the animal in view of my camera I became acutely aware of just how large this specimen was. It stopped again, a short distance from me, relieved itself, then continued along the pathway and eventually out of sight. I hastily returned to the vehicle to show Christa my discovery, much to her deep disappointment at having missed such a spontaneous and awesome sighting!
Where are the boundaries?
As cool and unexpected as this chance encounter was, it did remind me of how often the pathways within our neighbourhood communities are shut off, sometimes for an entire season, due to coyote sightings or dens in the area. While I’m a proponent for integrating and preserving wildlife inside the city, I’m not sure that I’m completely supportive of the notion that all wildlife should be entitled to dictate – and sometimes even confine – human neighbourhood activities and movement. I understand that man has encroached on wildlife territory. This is especially noticeable in outlying new neighbourhoods where urban sprawl has displaced them faster than they are able to naturally migrate. However, when wildlife – particularly volatile predators like coyotes, who are a threat to domestic pets and small humans while keeping proliferating rodents under control – are left to encroach into neighbourhoods with little to no recourse to safely relocate them, I wonder whether we’re actually being wise, reasonable and even kind to them. Instead, we foster a sense that easy food is available from our back doors and alleys and they’re welcome to hang around and even rear their young nearby, indefinitely.
We are truly blessed by having access to the vast tracts of public and provincial parks and green spaces within our city. We should expect to see and nurture wildlife. That’s a sign of healthy co-habitation. Migrating wildlife through our communities is undeniably worthy of pausing in one’s tracks, reflecting and appreciating the passing beauty of nature. But is there perhaps a fine line that is crossed when we feel obliged to leave potentially threatening animals to co-exist with us?
I’d love to hear your views on these thoughts by leaving your comments below.