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Advancing Urban Wildlife Tracking and Public Education

As cities’ top predator, coyotes play a critical part in the urban ecosystem. They manage the population of wildlife such as squirrels, rabbits, rats and geese, keeping these species under control. However, given coyotes’ highly adaptable and resourceful nature, as our cities continue to grow, sightings are expected to continue and the opportunity for interactions will remain.

Although coyotes generally pose little risk to humans and pets, the City of Mississauga, like many municipalities, has faced the challenge of citizens intentionally or unintentionally feeding coyotes and evolving changes in coyote behaviour.

Following gradual year-on-year increases in coyote incidents, inquiries and personal safety concerns, Mississauga Animal Services expanded its use of ArcGIS software to better understand its wildlife population. Through the Coyote Sightings Interactive Map, a total of 1,292 coyote sightings were recorded in Mississauga over 2021, rising to 1,452 in 2022. Comparatively, before the system was implemented, 788 sightings were reported in 2019.

The number of reported sightings is not the only evidence that the use of ArcGIS helped elevate Mississauga’s coyote management program. Despite an increase in sightings, over the past two years, incidents have declined by 81 per cent, from 21 in 2021 down to 4 in 2022, with no reports of human interaction with the animals. In its two years of use, the system has enhanced Animal Services’ ability to take proactive steps to communicate and educate the public, effectively leading residents to respect safety guidelines.

Initial Tracking and Data Collection

Prior to the introduction of the City’s interactive map, static PDF-based maps were used to visually track coyote activity in Mississauga. From the data collection to production, analysis and distribution, the multi-step operation struggled to keep pace with real-time activity.

After collecting the sighting information from residents, whether through 311, dispatch service, email or Coyote Watch Canada reports, Animal Services would manually input the data into an Excel sheet. Every month or two, this data would be sent to the city’s GIS team, who would generate a PDF map, plotting the locations based on address points.

A PDF map of Mississauga with coloured dots throughout representing various coyote sightings in the city. There is a legend for the coloured dots on the bottom right.

Example of a PDF-based map initially used by Mississauga Animal Services to track coyote sightings

From there, the map needed to be uploaded to Animal Services’ website and sent to communication teams to help distribute the information to the public. By this point, the sighting information may have been received weeks before.

“The previous PDF-based map that we used to use to depict coyote activity had limitations and it did not really provide a lot of information to Animal Services to formulate our response to these concerns,” says Parathan Mohanarajan, Public Education Officer with Mississauga Animal Services. “Due to the map being a PDF and not being very accessible, it could not be quickly updated. It was a time-consuming process that the community did not feel like they had any engagement in.”

Interactive Mapping and Real-Time Analysis

In February of 2020, Mississauga launched its ArcGIS-driven map for coyote sightings.

Using ArcGIS Survey123 embedded into a website, the public can conveniently report a coyote sighting anywhere in the city, whether on a street, a park or green space, without having to cite an exact address, ultimately providing Animal Services with an accurate location to follow up on. Other sighting information, such as the type of sighting, date, and time, is also collected through the reporting form.

“It's user friendly for both staff and for residents. The solution has really provided an opportunity for both GIS and Animal Services to have a much easier and streamlined workflow,” says Elizabeth Gavrilova, Mississauga GIS Specialist. And with everything now hosted on a single system, Gavrilova notes that Animal Services can easily maintain the sightings data themselves.

An Esri map of Mississauga with different regions coloured. There are dots on the map to represent coyote sightings and a filter bar on the right side of the screen.

The City of Mississauga’s public Coyote Sightings Interactive Map, powered by Esri technology

Additionally, an internal map, hosted on ArcGIS Online, allows Animal Services staff to edit and update information after verifying any reported sightings that are submitted through the public form. The verified information is then displayed on an interactive map for residents of Mississauga, letting them view if a coyote has recently been seen around their neighbourhood.

Unlike the city’s initial PDF maps, the new mapping system gives both the community and Animal Services a near real-time view of reported coyote activity throughout the city, and showcases historical trends. “All the points have their own importance. They all tell a story and provide a lot of information to the community when they're looking at our map,” says Mohanarajan.

Along with an internal dashboard, these applications together provide the Animal Services team with the accessibility to compile stats, observe possible patterns, track coyote movements and share findings with other departments.

A dashboard with charts and numbers showing reported sightings, types of sightings and reports, and an interactive Esri map.

Animal Services internal dashboard illustrating coyote sighting data throughout the city

Public Engagement and Education

Behind the scenes, using the snapshots of information illustrated through the new mapping solution, Mississauga Animal Services can distribute resources to areas of the city where numerous sightings or concerns have been reported.

“It helps target our patrols to address bold coyote behaviour or wildlife feeding in the area. We can communicate with local community groups to get awareness and education out to the residents so we can try to prevent an incident,” explains Mohanarajan. “It has also fostered increased community co-operation in trying to address these concerns as these issues are not just an Animal Services issues, but community issues.”

A screenshot of the reporting app showing some questions for citizens to fill in, such as selecting the type of sightings and an open text field.

Using ArcGIS Survey123, the public can report coyote sightings anywhere in the city

The new solution has been valuable in equipping the team with the data needed to take a proactive approach to its coyote management program, helping them intervene and prevent the escalation of concerning situations. Being able to strategically respond with increased educational outreach or enforcement has proven successful in reducing the number of negative pet or human coyote encounters.

Additionally, the map supplies the team with an overview of where there are healthy coyote populations and which areas to monitor. More specifically, because the public can attach photos when reporting a sighting through the survey form, Animal Services can now identify and visually track the movement of individual coyotes in the city.

A photo of a coyote in a field in front of a fence.

Coyote sighting photo submitted by a community member

Beyond Coyote Sightings

Mississauga recently updated the mapping system, allowing citizens to report fox sightings throughout the city, as public concerns relating to foxes have steadily grown. In 2021, during which time there was no accessible outlet for reporting foxes, approximately 56 fox sightings were recorded. Last year, after opening it up on the survey form and map, 405 sighting were reported.

Internally, Animal Services has also begun tracking areas with an influx of rats and areas under construction, which can disrupt wildlife and prompt emergence of rodents. Each piece of information collected has helped with outreach efforts and allowed Animals Services to implement a community response before major worries and environmental health inquiries arise.

“As we are receiving increased reports of coyotes and foxes year-on-year, a solution like this is necessary to keep the community safe,” says Mohanarajan. “Humans and wildlife are living closer to one another, and even though wildlife have adapted to live closer to us, we need to learn more about wildlife in order to successfully cohabitate with it.”

A signboard and phone number from the city showing a picture of a fox with text stating “Keep the community safe. Don’t feed me.”

Public awareness and education campaign by Mississauga Animal Services

About the Author

Desmond Khor works with multi-industry stakeholders to connect stories with opportunities. As a Marketing Manager at Esri Canada, Desmond is helping to build a stronger, more connected community around technology and the business capabilities of location intelligence.

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