“We should have respect for animals because it makes better human beings of us all.”Jane Goodall
Over the last 4 or 5 decades, there have been extraordinary changes in the attitudes of humans towards wild animals. Prior to this time, predators in particular, were considered a threat to humans or their livestock, and were considered to be vermin that should be wiped out. Wolves, eagles, bears, killer whales and many others, were the enemy. There was little interest in their lives and minimal appreciation of their central place in the unimaginably complex environmental web in which we all live. It would be interesting to study the roots of this societal change (Rachel Carson must be given plenty of credit) but, whatever they were, the results were revolutionary. Attitudes towards animals such as wolves, moved from extermination to conservation and eventually, even re-introduction.
Around the same time, animals previously unknown in cities, took advantage of the increasing levels of tolerance and respect for wildlife and started to move into urban areas. This was a worldwide phenomenon and was certainly not limited to N America. The types of animals involved varied widely depending on city environments and the lifestyles of local animals but the colonization of cities by previously non-urban ‘wild’ animals is now found everywhere. In North America, the common colonists include raccoons, skunks, coyotes, black bears, foxes, deer, beavers and a number of raptors. However, the full list is surprisingly long and ranges from polar bears in the suburbs of Churchill down to alligators on Florida’s golf courses with many many other species in between.
Vancouver’s extensive system of parks is, of course, no exception to this trend – particularly those parks with water features. At time of writing, any observant person taking an early morning walk around Vanier park stands a good chance of seeing a family of coyotes, another of otters, numerous waterfowl, breeding peregrines under Burrard bridge and an active bald eagle nest near the bike park. For those who deal with the crazy pace of life in a large city, access to these beautiful animals provides intangible but profound benefits of calm and relaxation. In fact, prescriptions for spending time walking in parks are now provided by some doctors in Vancouver.
Access to wild animals provides an opportunity to become involved in environmental issues. The Hancock Wildlife Foundation monitors bald eagles around the lower mainland and also runs four cameras in eagle nests. These can be accessed through the website at: https://hancockwildlife.org/project/live-cams/
Volunteer observers are important right now because we are currently going through an unexplained drop in bald eagle chick survival in Vancouver. This year, only 5 of 22 nests around the city have successfully raised chicks. On the north shore, only 4 of 20 nests have been successful. These are the lowest survival records ever recorded in Vancouver. The causes are so far unknown – the likely culprits are some mix of avian influenza, pesticide residues and falling salmon stocks.
On a similar note, it is important for citizens to become involved in the management of Vancouver’s wild animals. Urban wildlife policies are often uncoordinated, even within a single city, but they are far more benign and inclusive than was considered normal only a few decades ago. As a good example, many American cities have changed their policies concerning coyotes. With the exception of aggressive animals, they accept that trapping and either moving or destroying coyotes is a futile exercise since other coyotes soon take over those vacant territories. They rely instead on education aimed at making sure the animals are not approached or fed.
Another example is the shift in attitude towards the use of rodenticides. Second generation rodenticides act slowly so giving time for their effects to be magnified as poisoned rats are consumed by predators. The result is particularly severe on owls and other raptors amongst whom poisoning is now a common cause of mortality. As recently as September 2020, the sale and use of second generation rodenticides was banned throughout the State of California. Alternatives such as traps, improved sanitation and rat exclusion measures are effective and far safer for other animals.
Dr Michael Seear,
Director, Hancock Wildlife Foundation.