Volunteers armed with tennis balls, sticks and cans filled with coins will be a new kind of soldier in the conservation battle to keep Alberta’s urban coyotes wild.
A new program will see citizens trained to seek the animals out in Edmonton’s residential areas and give them a good scare.
If the animals don’t flee when approached, volunteers will throw balls, wave sticks and generally make a ruckus.
It’s a cruel-to-be-kind approach. The idea is to keep the canines fearful of humans, said biologist Colleen Cassady St. Clair.
Urban coyotes can become too bold, leading to unwanted interactions with people and pets.
Projectiles, obnoxious noise
“We are filling tennis balls with sand to make them the weight of baseballs. Anyone can learn to throw a baseball with quite a bit of accuracy,” St. Clair said in an interview with Alberta at Noon.
“The goal will be to use this tool, along with making some obnoxious noise like shaking a can full of coins and running after the coyote, to teach it greater wariness.”
The sand-filled tennis balls will be wrapped in flagging tape because waving flags are “weirdly frightening” to wildlife, especially canines, said St. Clair, a professor in the department of biological sciences at the University of Alberta.
Umbrellas may also be deployed.
“Umbrellas, think about how weird those are to an animal,” she said. “It starts to approach and suddenly this massive, solid-looking device just grows out of nowhere.”
St. Clair and the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project are helping oversee the research project which is being conducted with Gabrielle Lajeunesse as part of her masters of science at the University of Alberta.
The research team is preparing to recruit volunteers in a handful of Edmonton neighbourhoods where there have been frequent reports of conflict with coyotes. Neighbourhoods will be invited to participate next month.
Volunteers will be canvassing for coyotes between January and May. Around eight volunteers will be needed in each neighbourhood and will be deployed in areas where emboldened coyotes have been recently spotted.
The researchers will then measure the effects on coyote behaviour in the targeted neighbourhoods in comparison to designated control neighbourhoods via both reports by the public and reactions by coyotes.
“We’ll have both treatment and control neighbourhoods,” she said.
“One of the specific goals will be to prevent coyotes from feeling comfortable enough to have dens in residential areas. It seems there’s been an increase in that in recent years and that’s a very acute source of conflict.”
Similar scare tactics have been used on bears living in national parks and other protected areas for more than two decades, St. Clair said.
A small number of rangers are trained to use projectiles, such as chalk balls, on bears that have become habituated to human food.
St. Clair is hopeful coyotes will also learn to keep their distance. She encourages anyone who encounters a coyote in a residential area to give the animal a good fright.
While any kind of noise will do the trick, she prefers to throw balls, charge at the animal and yell “bad coyote.
“I’m anthropomorphizing here, but coyotes do seem to look over their shoulder like, ‘What is that middle-aged woman doing chasing me and throwing these things at me and yelling?
“‘It is a bit hilarious, as an image, but I do think it could rapidly increase the wariness of coyotes that have learned from repeated encounters with humans that they don’t need to fear them.”