Studying how carnivores coexist with people across urban and suburban areas in the Seattle region



Urban spaces and the suburbs that sprawl around them are growing worldwide, pushing some carnivore species into more remote regions, while forcing others to adapt to higher human densities. Increasing contact between humans and carnivores potentially leads to more human-carnivore interactions and increased concerns about risks to humans, whether real or perceived. Continued survival of urban carnivore populations, as well as a sense of security for the public, requires increased understanding of and coexistence with these species.

Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle University have launched a new project to explore how mammalian carnivores, such as coyotes, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, and even cougars and bears live and interact with people across urban and suburban areas in the Seattle region.




About Urban Carnivores

The Seattle Urban Carnivore Project focuses on the following species: black bear, bobcat, cougar/ mountain lion, coyote, opossum, raccoon, river otter and red fox.

These are terrestrial (not marine) mammals in the taxonomic order Carnivora (*except for opossums). Some of them have a carnivorous diet (eating other animals). Many of them, however, have an omnivorous diet, eating plants as well as animals. We’re focusing on species that tend to occur within or adjacent to developed regions and are generally easy for the public to identify. The project aims to explore how urban carnivores live and interact with people across greater Seattle. While we appreciate the importance of other carnivorous animals such as birds of prey, the primary focus of this project is to further understand and support coexistence with the eight focal species listed above. 


Engage the Local Community

Seattle-area residents, university students, and Woodland Park Zoo volunteers have learned how to deploy and check remote cameras (also called “camera traps”) in their neighborhoods. This will enhance participants' understanding of which animals occur around them in the city, foster valuable science skills, and contribute to data collection.

Strategies for Coexistence

We will use the findings from this project to support communities in facilitating solutions to achieve positive coexistence with carnivores. People living in the Seattle area can contribute to advancing our scientific knowledge about urban carnivores, as well as build the skills and knowledge necessary to address real-world ecological problems. To ensure success with these goals, we will take lessons learned from the zoo’s successful Coexisting with Carnivores project with the City of Issaquah.

Collaborate with Other Projects

Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo is coordinating the Urban Wildlife Information Network, a partnership of researchers across the country who use the wildlife-monitoring protocols created in Chicago to understand the ecology and behavior of urban wildlife species. By pooling data across multiple North American cities the network is seeking to understand why animals in different cities behave the way they do, and what patterns hold true around the world.

Increase Our Understanding

The project will focus on answering these key questions:

Which neighborhood characteristics (e.g., structures, human density, trails) attract certain species to certain areas?

How does human behavior, such as trail use and how we dispose of food waste, affect where negative human-carnivore interactions occur…and don’t occur?

How can we better design parks, trails, and habitat connectors to enhance wildlife habitat and promote positive carnivore-human coexistence?

Do carnivores alter their behavior in cities in ways that make them more or less likely to interact with people?

Do some species act as deterrents to other species? For example, do healthy coyote populations help to limit the number of rats in our suburban landscapes?


Good News for Urban Carnivores and People

  • We launched the online Carnivore Spotter reporting tool in August 2019. Seattle-area residents logged more than 2,200 observations of local carnivores in the first two months!
  • Thirty-six cameras were deployed across the greater Seattle area in April 2019, located within green spaces along a north transect, a south transect and several off-transect locations.
  • By September 2019, the project already captured 90,000 photographs, including photos of black bears, coyotes, bobcats, opossums and raccoons. The camera trap data, together with observations reported via Carnivore Spotter, will be analyzed to explore urban carnivore distribution, habitat use and connectivity, population dynamics, and how these species live and interact with people across the region.
  • Teams of youth and adult volunteers maintain several of the remote camera stations. By managing these camera stations, the volunteers are actively participating in wildlife research in the zoo’s backyard and increasing their understanding and awareness of research methods, local carnivore ecology, and coexistence.
  • Within only 72 hours of launching, stories about Carnivore Spotter ran 14 times across several outlets, reaching more than 9 million people, and spreading information about coexisting with carnivores widely across the region.


Learn More About Urban Carnivores

Frequently Asked Questions about Coyotes

Frequently Asked Questions about Black Bears (coming soon!)

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s pages on Living With Wildlife

PAWS Wildlife Center - Helping sick, injured and orphaned wildlife get back home and thrive in the wild.

Research Methods


Camera Traps

The project uses high tech, noninvasive methods such as remote cameras—also called “camera traps”— for addressing these questions. Camera traps permit researchers to learn about wildlife without capturing or otherwise disturbing study species. Camera traps are placed in urban parks, in remnant forest patches and greenspaces, and in neighborhood yards in cooperation with homeowners.

Community Science

The project includes  a web-based carnivore reporting site – Carnivore Spotter – which allows residents of greater Seattle to report sightings of carnivore species such as coyotes, bobcats and cougars.

Visit carnviorespotter.org to participate now!

Carnivore Spotter Annual Report 2019-2020 prepared by Doris Duke Conservation Scholars from the University of Washington.

Genetic Analysis

Lastly, we’ll be exploring the use of scat collection, combined with cutting-edge genetic analyses, to explore the types of prey and foods that urban carnivores are eating.



Research in Your Community

The Issaquah Parks Carnivore Project is part of the Seattle Urban Carnivore Project, launched by Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle University to explore how mammalian carnivores, such as coyotes, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, and even cougars and bears live and interact with people across urban and suburban areas in the Seattle region. We are working with our staff, volunteers and community partners to deploy camera traps in city and county parks across the Seattle regions.

You can also report and share your carnivore sightings - visit Carnivore Spotter now to report or explore local carnivore sightings throughout the greater Seattle area! We also invite you to help us with our wildlife research! On the Zooniverse platform, you can help us to identify the wildlife we’ve detected on camera traps in urban and wild places across Washington, as part of our Seattle Urban & Issaquah Parks Carnivore Projects and our Washington Wolverine Project.


Carnivore Spotter


Our Urban Carnivores Need Your Support and Appreciation!

Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle University work with staff, students, volunteers and community partners to deploy camera traps in city and county parks across greater Seattle.


Want to get involved?

Participating as a Seattle Urban Carnivore Project Camera Trap Volunteer is an exciting opportunity to get hands-on experience with urban carnivore research while increasing your understanding of urban carnivores and how to foster human-wildlife coexistence.

Training for each year’s season will be offered around mid-March of that year. You will be contacted by project staff at least one month prior to training with further details.

Join the interest list for participating in 2022!

Tips for coexisting with carnivores:

  • Manage your garbage, recycling and compost to ensure wildlife can’t access them – if animals become too acclimated to human food sources, it can lead to them becoming a nuisance.
  • For your safety and theirs, maintain a healthy distance between you and wildlife – if you encounter animals such as raccoons or coyotes in your neighborhood, make noise by yelling or slapping your hand on your thigh to deter wildlife from coming too close.