The Hazing project aims to scare Edmonton’s city prairie wolves off the streets

An Edmonton research project is recruiting new recruits to harass city coyotes in the streets.

A strong pitching arm is considered an asset.

Volunteers will be encouraged to hunt coyotes, barn and trample while lobbing sand-filled tennis balls at the animals.

The repeated turbidity, called aversive conditioning, is intended to make coyotes more afraid of humans, discouraging them from hunting and raising their young in residential areas.

The citizen patrols first came on the streets last winter. Preliminary results suggest that the scare tactic works.

The project is the work of the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project, an ongoing study dedicated to researching the city’s population of resident coyotes.

A large riot is required to give coyotes a good scare, said Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a biologist from the University of Alberta who oversees the project.

She compares it to a neighbor guard. If volunteers can get within 40 feet of a coyote, the turbidity begins.

“Volunteers can shout or shake a can full of coins or use a small handheld air horn and try to throw a tennis ball,” said St. Clair, who often uses an umbrella on his patrols.

“We think this combination is pretty scary for coyotes.”

Cruel to be kind

While coyotes rarely attack, the animals can become too daring, leading to unwanted interaction with humans and pets.

Many government and nature conservation agencies, including the city of Edmonton, recommend aversive conditioning as a humane way of dealing with urban populations of the wild canines.

Similar tactics have been used for decades to keep wildlife at bay. Stones, slingshots and rubber snails have been used in national parks across North America to deter hungry bears from eating waste.

Our hopes of getting coyotes out of the cities are slim and none.-Colleen Cassady St. Clair

“Hard hazing” could become a powerful and affordable method of dealing with the estimated 500 to 1,000 coyotes roaming Edmonton, St. Clair said.

“Our hopes of getting coyotes out of cities are slim and none,” she said.

“Our best hope for the future is to coexist with them more successfully, and I think we could do that if we make coyotes more careful around humans.”

Researchers Colleen Cassady St. Clair, left, and Gabrielle Lajeunesse join volunteers Dale Brochu on one of his most recent patrols. (David Bajer / CBC)

Last winter, 41 Edmonton neighborhoods were invited to participate in the project, based on high rates of coyote sightings.

A total of 28 neighborhoods signed up, and between February and May, 76 volunteers logged 569 hours on patrol.

Each volunteer was trained in aversive state methods and equipped with a supply of tennis balls covered in colorful flag ribbons.

Patrols were only carried out during the day – and only in neighborhoods, not in the river valley or gorges.

Volunteers reported 64 coyote sightings and five aversive conditioning incidents in which tennis balls were used. A careful log of each meeting was compiled into an app designed for the project.

Learning to stay away

About 80 percent of coyotes withdrew immediately, said Gabrielle Lajeunesse, a graduate student in biology who specializes in field studies.

She notes that these results are consistent with similar ones Community research conducted in Denver, Colo., which showed that 84 percent of coyotes withdrew from haze.

While volunteers did not get too many chances to use their arms, prairie wolves facing the tennis balls learned to stay away, Lajeunesse said.

The five coyotes exposed to aversive conditioning were not seen again for an average of about 37 days, compared to about 10 days for coyotes that were not harassed.

Lajeunesse, a master’s student in biology at the University of Alberta, is conducting field studies as part of his thesis. She says hazing is a friendly approach to dealing with urban people. (David Bajer / CBC)

Volunteers also noticed 353 coyote attractants during their patrols, most often unsecured waste followed by prey such as rodents and jackrabbits.

Lajeunesse said the initial reaction to the project was mixed. Some people were skeptical. Others thought the harsh approach to love was too harsh.

But scaring the animals is humane and effective, Lajeunesse said.

“If we consider the alternative, which would be to let coyotes do what they want, it tends to make them bolder and bolder over time. And ultimately, it can lead to them becoming aggressive towards humans and having to destroyed.

“We are trying to prevent that escalation from happening.”

‘A relaxed, enjoyable experience’

Last winter, the research quarters were divided into test and control areas. The tactics will change a bit this field season. From now on, volunteers in all participating neighborhoods will be encouraged to blur coyotes as needed.

Dale Brochu volunteered at Terwillegar Towne, one of the control quarters.

“At first, I was pretty nervous about it,” he said.

Brochu said the project gave him new insights into an animal he knew little about.

“When I wanted to be out alone before this project, I saw a coyote and tended to run away,” he said.

Brochu signed on to volunteer with the project last winter as he patrolled his neighborhood for signs of the wild canines. (David Bajer / CBC)

The hope is that more volunteers will sign up for winter. Lajeunesse would like the social sciences project to become a fixture in the Edmonton neighborhoods.

Those interested in participating this winter are encouraged to contact the project. The 2022 field season begins in January.

Although people can not commit to being a formal volunteer, they are encouraged to try hazing. St. Clair wants to make it a common practice to appeal to coyotes.

“Maybe it would become common to carry objects, tennis balls or something else, ready to throw after coyotes.

“Perhaps more people, when they see a coyote, would feel comfortable treating it aggressively.”

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