06/20/2012 10:20 EDT | Updated 08/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Vancouver coyote sightings up sharply

The number of reported coyote sightings in Vancouver has risen nearly 600 per cent over the past two years, the B.C. Environment Ministry says.

In 2009 there were 51 sightings, but that number rose to 297 last year.

Conservation officials say the increase doesn't necessarily mean an increase in the coyote population. It could mean a lack of the usual food sources has drawn the animals into areas where they may have better luck finding food and also are more readily seen by humans.

The SPCA announced Friday that a recent spate of about two dozen cat killings in Maple Ridge was the work of coyotes, not a human predator. And last month a family of coyotes was evicted from underneath a Burnaby elementary school.

Conservation officials don't consider the increase in sightings to be a public safety issue. Coyotes are generally scared of humans and will avoid them.

But there are signs that some coyotes are becoming bolder, said the Karen Duncan, president of the Vancouver Orphaned Kitten Rescue Association.

“We’ve had incidents where a small dog is being walked and a coyote comes out of the bush five feet away and starts stalking and doesn’t run away.”

City ideal environment

The coyote’s natural habitat is desert and grasslands. But they have migrated from the U.S. Midwest and as far north as Calgary, following roads and railways, said Dan Straker, of the Stanley Park Ecology Society.

Straker said the city is an ideal environment for them because it offers de-forested areas like parks and golf courses.Rodents are their favourite food so a port city is a great place for them to land, he said.

Starker said humans have also done a good job of eradicating their predators, namely wolves.

"In most ways its the perfect symbiosis for them, though they are still mostly afraid of us,” Straker said.

He said it’s best not to run away if you see a coyote, but to wave your arms and yell at them, which usually alarms them and any others in the vicinity.