For decades the message to visitors at some popular national parks has been, "Don't feed the bears," but now there's a different twist on that theme at Cape Cod National Seashore. Park officials are asking visitors to stop feeding coyotes, and there's a sense of urgency in the campaign.
Many people may not associate coyotes with the beach, but the animals are definitely there at Cape Cod, and they are not only present, but becoming a problem...due to unwise activities by humans.
According to information from the park, "There have been several recent incidents of people feeding coyotes in the Herring Cove North Parking Lot, and along the Province Lands Road. On October 24 there were nine coyotes wandering among the parked cars at sunset looking for handouts. On the 26th and 27th there were 3 and 4 coyotes."
Coyotes Are Being Attracted By A Variety of Unnatural Food Sources
The problem isn't limited to visitors who lure the animals with snacks just because people think the critters are "cute." Piles of dog food and fish heads have been dumped, and food scraps have been left behind after cook-outs, contributing to this gathering of coyotes.
In response to a developing problem, Superintendent George Price has issued a request for the public's support, and the message is simple: "Stop feeding coyotes and other wild animals in the national seashore."
Herring Cove Area in the Park Has Become a Problem Area
"This fall has brought an unexpected problem to national seashore beaches when it was observed that visitors are regularly feeding coyotes at the Herring Cove North parking lot in Provincetown," Price said. "Apparently a number of people decided to feed the coyotes which have taught them to gather at the parking lot at sunset."
Price said that he wants people to understand and comply with this request. "We do not want anyone hurt, and do not want to put these animals in a hazardous situation because of uninformed human actions."
Some people may not understand the potentially serious impacts of feeding wildlife, and the park staff is doing its best to educate visitors and local residents about the problem. Several local media outlets have carried a story this week about the issue.
Problems Arise When Wildlife Associates Food With Humans
"Wild animals, such as these coyotes, quickly learn to associate people with food," Price explained. "The coyotes begin to rely on human food, which is less nutritious than their natural diet of mice and small mammals. This is also true when people feed the Canada geese at Beech Forest, or leave pet food out at night for other critters. We are not doing them any favors, even if it makes us feel better."
"Many communities have learned that feeding coyotes has led to dangerous encounters with humans. There are dozens of documented instances where coyotes became aggressive and seriously injured people and killed pets. Once coyotes have lost their fear of humans, some confront people and even stalk and maul small children and pets."
Because of the recent increase in the feeding activity, informational signs will be posted, and park rangers will continue to patrol the Province Lands and Herring Cove area and try to disperse the coyotes with non-lethal methods.
Park Reminds Visitors That Feeding Wildlife is Both Dangerous and Illegal
The park staff hopes the information campaign will be effective, but also remind visitors that "Feeding wild animals in a national park is illegal, is detrimental to the wild animals and will develop into a dangerous situation for visitors and their children and pets. People who continue to feed the animals will be subject to a fine."
If the trend can't be reversed, it's the animals who will ultimate pay the price, and aggressive animals may need to be destroyed.
It's a common story across the country, with unnatural food sources luring everything from bears and deer to even skunks into trouble. For the benefit of both wildlife and humans, let's hope the folks who visit Cape Cod will get the message.