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Jan 30, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Railway lines, Don Valley provide routes, habitat for wild animals

East York Mirror

More coyotes are using rail corridors to find food and travel between urban spaces, says a local conservationist.

Following a mange outbreak from 2003-2004 which saw numbers significantly reduced, the local coyote population is back on the upswing and Ralph Toninger believes easy access to food via the corridors is a major reason why.

“The coyotes use the rail lines to move in and out of cities, they’re basically wildlife highways,” said Toninger, who works to restore habitats for the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority.

The grassy areas surrounding the tracks make corridors such as the Lakeshore East rail line, on which the Danforth GO station lies, make ideal hunting grounds for coyotes, who will dine on small prey such as meadow voles and rabbits as they pass through, rarely seen by human eyes.

More and more, Tonginer believes, coyotes use the rail lines to travel further into the city where easy pickings of the man-made variety await. “If you are a coyote are you going to chase down a rabbit when there’s a pile of garbage with a bunch of things to eat?” he said.

Unsecured garbage dumpsters will also attract “nuisance” wildlife such as coyotes. Another easy form of prey are small housepets kept in backyards which make for an easy meal to a roaming coyote, said Toninger.

Back in 2009, Neville Park residents raised concerns when coyotes were seen prowling through backyards and carrying away pets. And last year, a lone coyote was shot around Cherry Beach when it started to behave aggressively.

Sure Arndt from non-profit eco-advocacy group Evergreen Brick Works which operates a community ecology centre in the Don Valley, said coyotes have been sighted but tend to avoid contact with humans and quickly flee if spotted. She advised residents to get in touch with the city if they spot a coyote behaving “strangely” but insisted their reputations are overblown.

“Coyotes have baggage and there might be stories that came along with them which makes them scarier to people,” said Arndt, associate director of ecology.

The Brick Works is home to a diverse assortment of wildlife, from hundreds of bird species such as red tailed hawks as well as typical urban creatures like raccoons, squirrels, skunks and foxes. There are also deer and several species of turtles.

Arndt said the Brick Works area, which is in the Don River valley off Bayview Road, is home to an unknown number coyotes who likely have dens in the area’s extensive network of ravines.

“We’re hearing a lot more about coyotes, people talk about them more than I’ve heard in the past,” she said.

The creatures, whose fur ranges from blonde to browm, are not known to hibernate and more sightings are reported in the winter season.

According to the city, their dens are likely to be located in secluded areas along streambanks and sandy ridges. They will also make use of old fox or groundhog lairs.

Toninger believes the increased frequency of coyote sightings are of creatures who live and scavenge in the city.

Toronto’s reputation a “wildlife sink” which attracts wild creatures from more natural habitats is overblown and many of the coyotes spotted in rail corridors and through the valley, are actually making their way north to more wooded areas such as the Oakridges Moraine, he said.

“In the case of coyotes, they’re being born in the city and migrating to the wild,” said Tonninger.

But the ones that do remain are showing altered behaviours due to the intervention of humans and Tonginer, who said he’s seen urban coyotes in the past, urged developers to plan for wildlife when designing new building projects. He said treating such planning as an afterthought results in more opportunities for enterprising creatures like coyotes to find food in denser areas.

One of the chief culprits of this is restaurants which leave food scraps in open dumpsters and result, he said, in a buffet for animals.

“Wildlife is not an unknown or unique phenomenon,” Tonginer said, “It’s part of our city fabric and we need to acknowledge and deal with it.”

Toninger said he is not surprised to hear about reports of more wildlife in the city since environmental protections have strengthened and water quality levels are better than back in the 1950s. Toronto is also extensively treed, making it one of the greenest cities in North America and an attractive place for coyotes, which are thought to have been in the city for the last 25 years.

Arndt said the increased presence of creatures like coyotes shouldn’t be seen as good or bad but a sign of their ability to adapt to various environments.

“There’s behavior that translates into urban wildlife that wouldn’t be seen in a more naturalized area,” she said.

For more information on coyotes and what to do in case of a sighting visit www.toronto.ca or call 311.

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