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Urban Carnivores, Climate Change and Coexistence

Posted by Katie Remine, Living Northwest Conservation Manager and Brianna Widner, Community Science Specialist
Photos: Woodland Park Zoo motion-triggered wildlife cameras

Coyote pups as seen from one of Woodland Park Zoo's motion-triggered cameras

When was the last time you saw a wild mammal larger than a squirrel in the city? Mammals are less studied in urban environments than are many other species—they are often more difficult to find, observe and investigate than plants and birds, for example. The Seattle Urban Carnivore Project, launched by Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle University in 2019, uses camera traps—motion-triggered wildlife cameras—as a strategy for collecting important data on urban mammal diversity. With cameras deployed at about 45 locations across King and Kitsap counties, the project relies on the collaboration of our Seattle University partners—including undergraduate biology students—and a group of more than 100 community volunteers to manage the camera stations. (Sign up here to receive information about volunteering for our 2024 season!) We also collect data through public observations submitted via our Carnivore Spotter reporting tool.

Black bears as seen from one of Woodland Park Zoo's motion-triggered cameras

Our student and volunteer teams are frequently rewarded on their monthly site visits with cool, cute and fun photos on their camera traps!  All the photos here are recent highlights from these motion-triggered cameras.

Staff and volunteers work together to identify wild animals in the camera trap photos, translating them into analyzable data so that we can use those data to help us better understand urban carnivores and how we can coexist with them. We have already contributed our completed dataset from 2019 and 2020 to several national studies.

A bobcat as seen from one of Woodland Park Zoo's motion-triggered cameras

The Seattle Urban Carnivore Project is part of a national network, the Urban Wildlife Information Network (UWIN) out of Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Members of this network employ similar study methods, such as camera trapping along urban-to-rural gradients, so we can pool data for comprehensive studies. In September 2023, for instance, we were part of a UWIN team that published a journal article about how urbanization impacts mammal species diversity. You can find links to this article and others, here. The study included data on 37 mammal species from 725 camera sites in 20 cities, including Seattle.

A coyote (with photo-bomb on left from a mule deer) as seen from one of Woodland Park Zoo's motion-triggered cameras

Not surprisingly, the authors found that species diversity declined with urbanization, which was measured as the mean percentage of impervious surface cover within 1 km of each site. In addition, they found a stronger negative effect of urbanization on larger-bodied species than on smaller-bodied species. However, the authors also identified another trend: the effect of urbanization on mammal species diversity and occupancy was stronger in warmer and less-vegetated cities.

A barred owl as seen from one of Woodland Park Zoo's motion-triggered cameras

While Seattle stands out as one of the cooler and more vegetated cities represented in this study, there are still important messages here for us. It’s clear, for example, that our urban trees and other plants are critical for sustaining urban mammal diversity. A healthy diversity of species in an ecosystem provides resiliency to changes and better supports human needs. For example, diverse mammal communities with multiple predator species can help control pest species, such as rats. And, in the face of climate change, we’re all in this together. The more we can do to maintain our city’s resilience, by stewarding our urban forests and by coexisting with the wildlife with whom we share our spaces , the better off we’ll all be.

The motion-triggered cameras work in all levels of light, as evidenced by this nighttime bobcat pic. 

This raccoon (that appears to be "holding up" the branch of a tree) is a common nighttime visitor.

The Seattle Urban Carnivore Project leverages the deeper understanding of urban carnivores we’re gaining from our research to support coexistence, ensuring that both people and wildlife can survive and thrive in the region. To this end, we recently collaborated with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife – with input and support from the Snoqualmie Tribe’s Tribal Culture, Environmental, and Ancestral Lands Movement teams—to develop new posters and social media toolkits to help community members collaboratively coexist with wildlife. The posters are presented in English and five non-English languages, plus a version that includes Lushootseed animal names. Posters are available for download and printing on our website at and will be displayed in parks and neighborhoods around King County as well as on Snoqualmie Tribe Ancestral Lands. Jaime Martin, Executive Director of Special Projects and Governmental Affairs for the Snoqualmie Tribe, emphasizes that “it is important to the Tribe that the animals whose homes are impacted by human activities, including recreation, are respected.”

Coexistence poster with animal names in Lushootseed language

Coexistence poster in Spanish

“Living near wildlife is one of the amazing things about Washington, including the Seattle area,” said Chris Anderson, King County district wildlife biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We all have a responsibility to reduce the potential for conflicts with wild animals, whether by securing your garbage or maintaining a safe distance from wildlife. The Zoo’s new WILDLIFE LIVE HERE toolkit will be a great resource for outreach to local communities.”

We invite you to print and display a coexistence poster in your neighborhood or share a message from one of the toolkits on social media. These actions will be most effective if we all work together. Please work with your neighbors to help your community coexist with coyotes!


Haight, J.D., Hall, S.J., Fidino, M. et al. Urbanization, climate and species traits shape mammal communities from local to continental scales. Nat Ecol Evol (2023).

Liu, J. Warming amplifies urbanization effects on mammals. Nat Ecol Evol 7, 1585–1586 (2023).