The SMART Way Of Avoiding Human-Coyote Conflicts
As our cities grow and sprawl into wild spaces, the living spaces that many animals naturally have gets smaller; fortunately or unfortunately, some species are incredibly adaptable to the urban environment. Humans and coyotes are generally used to living with some distance from each other, but as cities get closer to coyote populations, coyotes begin to adapt to being around people, and not running away from them. For that reason, among others, the number of conflicts between people and coyotes increases.
One way to avoid habituation and the conflicts that come with it is to educate citizens about how to “haze” coyotes if they meet one. Of course, the wording “hazing” has negative connotations, but coyote hazing is not generally connected with bullying or aggression. In this case, the word hazing represents the most non-violent way possible to encourage coyotes to avoid people. Instead of aggression hazing involves using sounds and moves like raising ones voice or clapping hands.The idea is that, if coyotes are more aware of humans present in their vicinity, they will not get so close to them to create possible negative interactions.
In this study, two community-level hazing programs were created and tested in 7 counties in Colorado. One of them, called the Citizen Science Hazing Program, recruited about 200 volunteers and educated them about coyote identification, behavior, and urban coyote conflict management. They also taught them an easy hazing technique called SMART. The SMART acronym represents an easy way to remember all of the steps of this technique:
Make yourself look big
Announce yourself, shout forcefully at the coyote
Repeat and reinforce, if necessary
Teach someone else how to haze a coyote
In this pilot program, volunteers were instructed to apply the hazing techniques they learned only when they encountered a coyote behaving unacceptably – taking the place and time of the encounter into account in their assessment.
The SMART program was more effective than another hazing program called Open Space Hazing Trial, which placed educational signs about hazing around big parks with a history of human-coyote conflict. Compared to the other program, those who participated in the Citizen Science Hazing Program changed their attitude about hazing in general, and saw it as an effective way to prevent human-coyote conflict. They also felt more confident in their ability to do so.
This study shows that community-level hazing programs can help start a path towards resolution of human-coyote conflicts; it shows especially how well-deployed training can help change people’s attitudes about hazing, and teach them adequate techniques to do so. The authors suggest that the Citizen Science Hazing Program was most effective because it gave participants contact with educators, allowing them to ask questions and get all the info they needed.
For animal advocates, the study shows just how much a well-organized program can empower locals to protect not only themselves but local wildlife. Though we know that coyotes and other wildlife living at the edges of urban settlements were there before us, it’s not always possible to stop urban encroachment on their land. In such instances, we can at least help minimize conflict situations as much as possible.