In San Francisco, wild animals, namely coyotes, have increasingly been making themselves at home with their human cohabitants. Some postulate the increase in coyotes is due to an ever-encroaching human population, leaving coyotes little natural space for themselves. Others attribute the influx to a city that protects the animal in addition to an ample food supply; coyotes, scavengers, can rummage through garbage, although they typically tend to shy away from humans.
It’s now spring however, and tensions are rising as coyotes, like many other species, are a bit more aggressive this time of year raising young and defending their den. This brings a whole new layer of dilemma to the City by the Bay as more and more residents are complaining that coyotes are impacting their ability to keep their dogs off-leash and are fearful of any possible confrontation with the wild animal.
As an overall precaution, Golden Gate Park, the area of the city where coyotes mainly reside, has “Coyote alert” signs and posters around areas where coyotes have been spotted, as well as signs advising dog owners to keep their pets on leash. According to Rebecca Katz, director of the city’s Animal Care and Control, while reports of coyotes killing dogs have been received, none of them have been substantiated. Ms. Katz says that “some of [the complaints] we don’t know how real [they are] and how much of it is people raising the hysteria level.”
There have also been cases of the reverse happening: domesticated dogs (and their owners) harassing coyotes. According to the NYTimes, SF Animal Care “posted a video on YouTube of an off-leash Rottweiler, filmed by his owner, harassing two coyotes apparently protecting a den.” This type of blatant taunting exemplifies the worst of both worlds and does not make a strong case for dog owners who complain of coyotes in the Park.
Nonetheless, coyotes aren’t the only wild animal migrating into our neighborhoods. Black bears have also become more and more comfortable around humans as demonstrated in the increasing black bear population in western Massachusetts. Northampton, Mass, in particular, has experienced a sharp spike in bear activity where “almost everyone, it seems, has a bear story.” Black bears, like coyotes, typically shy away from humans, but will grow more and more accustomed to human activity through exposure and time.
Whether or not coexisting with wild animals – beyond song birds – in an urban environment is a good thing is yet to be determined, although being able to coexist with nature overall is increasingly shown to enhance cognition, decrease disease and depression and improve mood. Clearly, humans are not the only species to call this planet home and it’s high time we shared a bit of space.
Still, both sides of the story have their opinion: those that don’t mind, and in fact welcome nature into their urban dwellings, and those who are not so thrilled. What remains to be seen is how a city like San Francisco will manage a growing coyote population within its limited city parameters.
To accommodate this anticipated population growth and mobility, as well as the mobility of other urban-dwelling species, Green Connections, a city planning effort to increase access to parks, open space and the waterfront through various “green connectors,” aims to also take into account wildlife corridors to ensure urban-based wildlife can safely get from one region of the city to another. As a safety precaution for animals and humans alike, this effort would be a welcome blend of both worlds and would promote a level of coexistence rarely seen in a major global city. After all, these wily coyotes will want to venture out of Golden Gate Park eventually. It’s how we deal with their natural tendencies and presence that’s the real question.
Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson