From bison to bears to bighorn sheep, it’s no secret that Canada is home to some amazing wildlife. Each year, millions of people visit our national parks, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of these iconic species.
“This mass appeal has a downside, however,” says Meghann Cant, BC SPCA animal welfare educator. “It can put animals – and the habitats they depend on – at risk.” The risk is especially high this year, as admission to all national parks is free in celebration of our country’s sesquicentennial.
Fortunately, Cant says, there are some precautions you can take to help keep our wild spaces, and their inhabitants, wild:
1. Don’t feed wildlife
“It’s actually illegal to feed wildlife in our national parks,” says Cant. Feeding wild animals causes them to lose their natural fear of humans. Over time, they can become dependent on handouts and may behave aggressively towards people and pets.
Feeding doesn’t have to be intentional. “Animals are attracted to a range of smells,” she says. “Even an empty dog food bowl can draw in an unwanted visitor!” Store all food and food-related items according to park guidelines.
“Also, don’t toss things like apple cores or banana peels out the window as you’re driving,” adds Cant. Food scraps can lure wildlife dangerously close to the road, putting them at risk of getting hit.
2. Stick to the trails
“It can be tempting to leave the beaten path,” says Cant. “But creating your own trails damages vegetation and disturbs wild animals.”
The same goes for dogs! Dogs who roam free can chase or even attack wildlife, and some wild animals may respond aggressively. “Off-leash dogs can lead carnivores such as bears and cougars back to your family,” says Cant. “Ungulates like elk could associate your dog with a wolf or coyote and attack.”
For everyone’s safety, keep your dog on a leash at all times unless in a designated off-leash area. “Some parks also have ecologically sensitive areas where even on-leash dogs aren’t allowed,” she adds.
3. Don’t take wildlife selfies
“Now’s the time to invest in a camera with a telephoto lens or a good zoom function!” says Cant. Approaching wild animals too closely causes them stress, and can put you in harm’s way – especially when they feel cornered.
Parks Canada recommends that you keep at least 30 metres away from large animals and 100 metres away from bears. “Following animals or making sounds to startle or move them to get a better shot is also a no-no,” she says.
4. Watch the roads
Roadways attract wild animals because they provide easy travel and access to forage. Be alert while driving, especially at sunrise and sunset when wildlife is most active. “Watch for shining eyes,” says Cant. “And, remember, if you spot one animal, look for others because animals often travel in groups.”
When you come across a traffic jam caused by roadside wildlife, it’s tempting to pull over and jump out for a closer look. But remaining in your vehicle and passing by slowly is your safest option.
For more information, check out Park Canada’s “Keep the Wild in Wildlife” tips.