Compassionate Conservation: Extending Welfare Concerns to Coyotes


Dr. Shelley M. Alexander, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Calgary
Victoria Lukasik, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Calgary


We need to expand our compassion footprint to wild animals like coyotes. It is estimated that one coyote is killed every minute in the USA, which is a statistic echoed in Canada. For instance, in 2009 alone, approximately 70,000 coyotes were killed on a government-sponsored bounty in Saskatchewan, and untold numbers of dead coyotes dumped along borders and in landfills of adjacent provinces. The welfare implications of routine culling are ignored because coyotes are an extremely resilient species. Arguably, a lack of understanding of the emotional lives of social animals like coyotes plays into citizen requests for and management agencies compliance with the use of lethal force. Further, calls for more compassionate science and management that are based on the knowledge of animal suffering tend to dismissed considered "biased" research or "advocacy" – not science. The idea that coyotes are a menace and should be killed is supported by some citizens, and select interest groups can drive killing, even if the larger citizenship does not agree with this practice. Finally, some agencies are working to promote co-existence and no-kill strategies, but this is difficult in the face of multiple worldviews about what wild species deserve our compassion and belong in proximity to people. This talk will introduce Compassionate Conservation science and convey key findings from a decade of research on coyotes, concepts from animal geography and personal experience raising/studying orphaned coyote pups.


  1. The causal factors of human-coyote, coyote-pet entanglements.
  2. Elucidating the ecological, ethical and social pressures shaping these engagements.
  3. Exploring the emotional lives of coyotes as evidence of moral considerability and the need for compassion.


Dr. Shelley Alexander is a Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Calgary. She has more than 25 years of experience studying wild canids, specializing in wolves and coyotes in Canada, and is the Founder and Lead Scientist for the Foothills Coyote Initiative. Shelley is also a recognized specialist in geospatial analysis (GIS, Satellite imagery and statistics) for conservation and a road ecologist – studying the effects of roads on species movement patterns. Her other research collaborations include: modelling swift fox critical habitat with the Conservation Science Centre - Calgary Zoo, studying road effects on large carnivores in the Yucatan and developing species-environment models for endangered painted dogs with Painted Dog Research, Zimbabwe. She is a member of the Science Advisory Board for Project Coyotes, USA, Member of the Board for the North American Society for Conservation Biology and Science Advisor to Coyote Watch Canada.

Dr. Alexander's talk will be followed by a short presentation by Victoria Lukasik, a PhD candidate under Dr. Alexander's supervision at The University of Calgary.


Coyotes and other "resilient" (behaviourally-adaptable) species are often managed through lethal control methods, with limited consideration of ethics and social dynamics. Rural public perceptions that indiscriminate killing of coyotes and wolves helps to reduce livestock losses and "control" predator populations persist in spite of evidence to the contrary. In urban areas, perceptions of risk to human and pet safety can promote lethal removal of coyotes deemed too habituated to humans. These perceptions and actions create barriers to co-existence at municipal and regional levels. When the only vocal citizens are those in favour of shooting, trapping and poisoning "inconvenient" species, there is little incentive for wildlife managers and their agencies to strengthen regulations aimed at co-existence. These issues will be discussed with a focus on building bridges to more compassionate conservation of coyotes, wolves and cougars in Alberta and across North America.


Victoria Lukasik is completing her PhD in the Canid Lab, in the Department of Geography at the University of Calgary under the supervision of Dr. Shelley Alexander. Through this research, Victoria examines lethal carnivore management in western Canada and identifies barriers to more effective and compassionate wildlife management approaches. She previously studied urban coyote diet and human-coyote interactions in Calgary during her Master of Science research, and holds a Bachelor of Science from McGill University in Wildlife Biology. Her research interests center around human-wildlife coexistence, carnivore ecology, and conservation. She has worked on numerous research and conservation projects studying birds, mammals and amphibians in academia, government, NGO and industry. She also has experience in environmental education and is passionate about sharing science with public groups.