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Meet the 'park warriors' whose mission is to call out wildlife feeding in Vancouver

·4 min read
Rita Ivanauskas says some people react negatively to her telling them not to feed wildlife, while others are thankful to learn that their actions are harmful. (Submitted by Rita Rita Ivanauskas - image credit)
Rita Ivanauskas says some people react negatively to her telling them not to feed wildlife, while others are thankful to learn that their actions are harmful. (Submitted by Rita Rita Ivanauskas - image credit)

Local and longtime users of Vancouver's biggest park are hopeful that arrests made this week in relation to the feeding of wildlife will be the deterrent they say is needed to help put an end to aggressive coyote attacks for good.

In the meantime, they plan to continue doing what they've been doing for months: calling out people they see sprinkling kibble and other food around for animals in Stanley Park.

"We are the warriors in the park telling people, 'Don't feed, you shouldn't be feeding,' but people can be extraordinarily obnoxious when you say that," said Jacqui Birchall.

A two-week park-wide cull of coyotes concluded this week, a last resort to stop coyotes from biting people.

Four of the animals were captured and euthanized during the cull. A total of 11 coyotes have been removed from the park since January. Since December, there have been 45 reported aggressive coyote attacks in the park, some involving children.

Sam Birchall
Sam Birchall

Birchall, who first started living in Vancouver's West End in 1969, walks in the four-square kilometre park everyday. She was upset about the cull, but agrees that humans feeding coyotes, which officials have said is one of the factors contributing to the aggressive attacks, is a problem in the park that needs to be addressed.

She says on numerous occasions she has either found food left for animals in the park, or witnessed people placing food out in order to draw raccoons or coyotes closer.

"There's a lot of idiots in the park," said Birchall.

Chad Pawson/CBC News
Chad Pawson/CBC News

The province says feeding wildlife lowers an animal's natural fear of humans and often results in injury or aggressive behaviour.

Birchall says she has been told off by some people for talking to them about feeding wildlife. Others simply didn't understand that it was harmful and actually illegal under the B.C. Wildlife Act to leave food out for animals like coyotes.

"I know that for some people, it makes them feel good when they feed wildlife. There is enormous ignorance, opinionated ignorance."

'Satan'

Rita Ivanauskas also has stories to tell about food being left out for wildlife and encounters with people — some appreciative, others combative — over telling them not to feed wildlife.

She, like Birchall, has lived for decades in the West End and spends time each day in Stanley Park.

Ivanauskas once approached a man feeding ducks at Lost Lagoon who called her Satan.

"I'll never forget that. He just said, 'You're Satan,'" she said.

Chad Pawson/CBC News
Chad Pawson/CBC News

Ivanauskas's perspective on the problem of feeding wildlife in the park is not only as a regular walker, but also as a wildlife photographer. She has in the past photographed urban coyotes using a zoom lens.

She is upset by photographers who have been reported by people like Birchall to the city and to the province for baiting animals with food.

"There are some photographers that use their images like trophies," she said about garnering likes on social media platforms.

Along with negative interactions with people leaving out food, she has also had people 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 for the animals, you shouldn't feeding them."

This week, on the day the park was fully reopened following the cull, the Conservation Officer Service announced that it had arrested two people and seized their vehicle in relation to feeding coyotes.

Although charges or fines have not yet been announced in relation to the arrests, both Birchall and Ivanauskas hope they will serve as a further deterrent to wildlife feeding in Stanley Park.

They also said that signs put up across the park to discourage people from feeding wildlife have resulted in less food being left out at places like Lost Lagoon.

Still they plan to continue to call out anyone they see feeding wildlife and, if necessary, document the feeding and report the people to authorities.

"It's something we believe in," said Ivanauskas.

Chad Pawson/CBC News
Chad Pawson/CBC News

The Vancouver Park Board is also working on a bylaw that would carry penalties for people caught feeding any wildlife in any park. Commissioners will debate the proposed changes by-laws on Monday.

Conservation officers can ticket people caught illegally feeding wildlife under B.C.'s Wildlife Act. Penalties can involve a year in prison or fines worth up to $100,000 for a first offence.

Any instances of aggressive coyotes or the feeding of wild animals can be reported to the Conservation Officer Service by calling 1-877-952-7277.

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