Wildlife sightings may be due to increased awareness, not more critters

After the recent cougar incident on Sept. 18, Calgarians have been reporting more wildlife visits to inner-city areas.

But the but sighting may be a case of greater awareness, rather than increased numbers of wild things visiting the city, a wildlife expert says.

Jenna McFarland, senior wildlife technician at the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (CWRS), believes that the frequent sightings are not actually due to more wildlife being in the area, but are actually more likely due to increased awareness of wild animals by their two-legged friends.

“The trend in urban environments seems to show a decline in the diversity of wildlife over time,” McFarland said in a recent interview.

“More sensitive species that require very niche habitats like certain birds of prey, some carnivores, large prey species and reptiles tend to phase out of urban centres.”

As a wildlife technician, McFarland has seen environmental awareness increase over time, and she attributes this to the perception of wild animal incursions.

“People are paying more attention to wildlife in urban areas due to a greater focus on environmental issues being taught in schools and being presented in the media,” she said.

“The public seems to be more aware of our organization than they have been in the past, probably because we have really stepped up our presence in the media and in the community.”

Calgary’s has many natural park areas. These parks range in size from 0.43 hectares to 1,127 hectares and a  walk through any one of them may bring visitors into contact with deer, beavers, coyotes, rabbits, and even large wildlife like bears and cougars.

Neighbourhoods like Rocky Ridge and Royal Oak, as wetland areas located on the city’s edge, tend to attract wildlife, and residents are advised to practice caution when encountering wild animals.

“I know I should have realized it was a possibility that my community got its name from its previous residents before development, but I was still surprised,” said Cougar Ridge resident Eric Kasko.

The recent cougar sighting has brought back memories of the incident on Sept. 28, 2009, when a cougar was hit and killed not far from Kasko’s home on Springbank Road S.W.

“With the Paskapoo Slopes right behind us, it was not uncommon to see one to three coyotes walking in the fields every night,” said Kasko.

“In the early days of development they would be walking right down the road.”

With park areas being so well-maintained in Calgary, and the city growing up around them, most animals have moved on to more open space.

This creates its own problem for dog owner Sierra Shaw, who walks her dog daily at the off-leash area in the River Park/Sandy Beach area in Marda Loop.

More sensitive species that require very niche habitats like certain birds of prey, some carnivores, large prey species and reptiles tend to phase out of urban centres.

“The wildlife problem for me is the rabbits,” says Shaw.

Leroy, her one-and-a-half-year-old Great Dane, has a passion for chasing after the rabbits and hares in the park.

“I used to rely on seeing a rabbit a few times a year to let me know if winter was here to stay since the rabbits were white, or spring was here as they were brown,” said Shaw.

“Now I dread seeing them because it makes walking my dog less enjoyable”

About Megan Brennan 5 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Megan Brennan is working as a reporter for The Press during the 2014-2015 academic year.

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