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Medicine Lake shores, Jasper 

I read with interest and dismay about the actions of a visitor to the National Parks in the US last week, taunting a bison on a busy traffic road at Yosemite. Fortunately, the person injured wasn’t injured, nor was any other individual and more importantly, neither was the bison in question.

One of the pleasures of visiting places like Yosemite or Banff or Jasper is to view wildlife in their natural surroundings. It’s impossible to miss the caution advocated with regards to viewing wildlife in every book, article, blog post or website one reads or listens to.

We saw a bear twice, both times briefly. But we got to see goats and sheep and elks aplenty. Some of the information we learnt as we traveled in Canada with regards to wildlife, I would like to share here.

  • Animals, like people, like grassy meadows and lightly forested areas. This gives access to prey, exposure to natural light, food and allows for easy getaway, if in danger. These are the best spots to look for wildlife.
  • Parks Canada has created several overpasses for animals to safely cross the highways. Although expensive, I can understand and appreciate the need for them. The TransCanada Hwy also has a fence that prevents animals from suddenly wandering onto the paths of oncoming vehicles. In contrast, Bow Valley Parkway, has a much slower speed and has no such fence, thus providing greater opportunities for animal viewing.
  • It’s best to slow down and cruise past animals on the road, especially ones like the bears, instead of getting out of the car and advancing towards them. The Parks Canada website asks to maintain a distance of 100-300 feet from all animals. In many instances we got down to view animals, but in each case, they were at a good distance from us, where we didn’t disturb their safety. Though we might  have transgressed on their daily routine. It’s also important to remember to park cars on the shoulders or somewhere safe before getting out, so they’re not in the way of oncoming traffic. In general, people were courteous enough to slow down, to allow  curious onlookers to cross the roads and generally to be vigilant, with so many adults and kids milling around distractedly, to view an animal or two.
  • It’s against the law to feed animals. Wildlife has to be allowed to maintain its wild nature. Repeated exposure to humans and our foods makes them lose the fear of being near humans, leading to, sometimes, aggressive behaviors from them. This could lead to potential loss of life, limb, and possessions for us humans. And potential death or lifelong confinement to a zoo or some such for an aggressive animal that is causing havoc.
  • The Parks Canada asks visitors to watch for defensive warning signals like bears making a “woofing” noise or snapping their jaw, bull elk putting their heads down and pawing at the ground. Best to retreat at these signs.
  • Best time to see animals is either early in the day or later in the evening. Although, we saw them at all times of the day. The one time I expected to see them was at the goat lick at Mt. Kerkeslin, and we tried visiting twice,  in the morning and evening and failed to see a single goat! Go figure!!
  • The audio guides frequently asked us to check on trail conditions before setting out. Also, some trails require hikers go as a group of four or more. And the best way to keep away bears on a trail is to talk loudly and make noise. The guides also recommend carrying bear spray and use in an aggressive bear encounter situation. There is a nice tutorial on the Parks Canada website on how to use one.
  • Of course, campers have a huge responsibility of putting away all food and food related items in a wildlife inaccessible area like the camper van or vehicle or a campground storage locker.

The Parks Canada website has great information on tips for safely seeing wildlife.

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Overpass along the Trans Canada Hwy
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Sulphur mountain summit 
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Along a curve, en route from Pyramid lake, Jasper
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Roadside, Mt. Norquay
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Along the slopes, Mt. Norquay