Meet the “warriors of the park” whose mission is to call upon the wildlife to feed in Vancouver
Local and long-time users of Vancouver’s largest park hope the arrests made this week in relation to feeding wildlife will be the deterrent they deem necessary to help end aggressive coyote attacks for good.
In the meantime, they plan to continue doing what they’ve been doing for months – calling people they see sprinkle with kibble and other pet foods in Stanley Park.
“We are the warriors of the park who tell people, ‘Don’t feed yourself, you shouldn’t feed yourself,’ but people can be extremely obnoxious when you say that,” said Jacqui Birchall.
A two-week park-wide coyote slaughter ended this week, a last resort to keep coyotes from biting people.
Four of the animals were captured and euthanized during slaughter. A total of 11 coyotes have been removed from the park since January. Since December, 45 aggressive coyote attacks have been reported in the park, some involving children.
Birchall, who began living in Vancouver’s West End in 1969, walks through the four-square-kilometer park daily. She was upset with the slaughter, but agrees that the humans feeding the coyotes, which officials say is one of the contributing factors to aggressive attacks, is an issue in the park that needs to be addressed.
She says on numerous occasions she has either found food for the animals in the park or seen people placing food in order to approach raccoons or coyotes.
“There are a lot of idiots in the park,” Birchall said.
The province says feeding wildlife reduces an animal’s natural fear of humans and often results in injury or aggressive behavior.
Birchall says she has been reprimanded by some people for telling them about feeding the wildlife. Others just didn’t understand that it was harmful and indeed illegal under the BC Wildlife Act to leave food for animals like coyotes.
“I know for some people it makes them feel good when they feed the wildlife. There is enormous ignorance, stubborn ignorance.”
Rita Ivanauskas also has stories to tell about the food left out for wildlife and meeting people – some grateful, others combative – instead of telling them not to feed the wildlife.
She, like Birchall, has lived in the West End for decades and spends time every day in Stanley Park.
Ivanauskas once approached a man feeding ducks in Lost Lagoon who called him Satan.
“I’ll never forget that. He just said, ‘You are Satan,'” she said.
Ivanauskas’ perspective on the problem of feeding wildlife in the park is not only that of a regular walker, but also that of a wildlife photographer. She has photographed urban coyotes in the past using a zoom lens.
She is upset by photographers who have been reported by people like Birchall to the city and province for baiting animals with food.
“There are photographers who use their images as trophies,” she said of collecting likes on social media platforms.
Along with negative interactions with people who skip food, she also asked people to thank her for helping them understand their actions were harmful.
“Sometimes they don’t want to listen to you at all, but I try,” she said. “If you really care about animals, you shouldn’t be feeding them.”
This week, on the day the park fully reopened following the slaughter, the Conservation Officer Service announced that it had arrested two people and seized their vehicle to feed coyotes.
While charges or fines have yet to be announced in connection with the arrests, Birchall and Ivanauskas hope they will serve as an additional deterrent to feeding wildlife in Stanley Park.
They also said signs posted across the park to discourage people from feeding wildlife have led to a decrease in the food left out at places like Lost Lagoon.
Nonetheless, they plan to continue to call anyone they see feeding wildlife and, if necessary, document the feeding and report people to authorities.
“It’s something we believe in,” Ivanauskas said.
The Vancouver Park Board is also working on a bylaw that would impose penalties on people caught feeding wildlife in any park. The commissioners will debate the proposed rule changes on Monday.
Conservation officers can issue tickets to people caught illegally feeding wildlife under the British Columbia Wildlife Act. Penalties can include one year in jail or fines of up to $ 100,000 for a first offense.
Any case of aggressive coyotes or wildlife feeding can be reported to the Conservation Officer Department by calling 1-877-952-7277.