Wildlife Watching in Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies
Jasper National Park, Alberta
By Caroline Shin
From the biggest of nature’s creations–grizzly bears and elk–to its smallest–birds and bugs–Jasper presents numerous opportunities to watch wildlife going about its normal life.
Insider Tips: Wildlife Watching in Jasper
How To: Optimize your Jasper Wildlife Watching Trip
You have excellent opportunities to see elk, sheep, bears, deer and other animals along the Yellowhead Highway 16.
1. Be invisible. Shhh.
Mum’s the word in Jasper. Find a safe, comfortable spot and sit quietly. Stay as discreet and insignificant as possible. Resist the impulse to get close, call out or reach out to animals. Use binoculars. You can watch unbothered wildlife go about their business naturally. But, make sure to retreat immediately if an animal approaches you or shows any sign of aggression.
2. Bring insect repellant.
Insects may bite or sting along hiking trails and backcountry campsites. Bring insect repellent. Avoid wearing perfumes and scented lotions. During the spring and summer, Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks are common. After hiking, do body and clothing checks for ticks.
3. Boil drinking water.
The water in Jasper National Park is generally clean, but there may exist harmful bacteria or parasites in untreated surface water. Boil and filter untreated water, or carry water from a treated water source.
4. Notify people.
Better safe than sorry. If you are planning a long or hazardous trip, notify your friends and family with details of your trip. You may also choose to complete a Voluntary Safety Registration at a Visitor Centre. Do not forget to register your return and avoid a costly and unnecessary search.
5. Respect nature.
With millions of people visiting the Canadian Rockies every year, it is crucial to maintain the natural state of Jasper’s wilderness. Every time we disrupt these natural activities we are, in effect, taking energy away from their survival.
How To: Prevent Conflicts with Jasper Wildlife
Although Jasper’s park animals appear unconcerned, all wild animals are unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
1. Do NOT feed or disturb wildlife.
2. Never leave food attractants out for wildlife. Food attractants include:
– coolers (they are NOT bearproof!)
– food scraps or leftovers
– dirty dishes, pots or barbecues
– empty bottles, cans or wrappers
– toothpaste, soap or other toiletries
– pet food dishes (full or empty)
3. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Because it is impossible to predict how wildlife will react in any situation, avoiding encounters is the only sure way to keep people safe and wildlife wild.
– Always watch out for animals or signs of their presence.
– Carefully supervise children whenever outdoors.
4. Always keep your distance.
Do not approach or entice wildlife. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens instead. Remain at least:
– 100 metres away from BEARS, COUGARS and WOLVES
– 30 metres away from ELK, DEER, SHEEP, GOATS and MOOSE
5. When Driving:
Be on the lookout for animals near the road. Drive with utmost caution, especially at dusk and dawn, when many animals are most active, and visibility is poor.
If you see an animal by the road:
* Slow down. It could run out into your path at any time.
* Warn other motorists by flashing your hazard lights.
* Where there is one animal, expect others nearby.
If you wish to stop and view roadside wildlife:
* Pull safely out of traffic.
* Remain in your vehicle.
* Move on after a few minutes.
Insider Tips: ABOUT JASPER’S ANIMALS
Be mindful that Jasper’s wildlife is truly wild–unpredictable and potentially dangerous. And therefore, you must act according to the rules of nature.
If a cougar, wolf or coyote approaches you, send a clear message that you are NOT potential prey.
* Pick up small children immediately.
* Do anything you can to make yourself look bigger.
* Be prepared to use pepper spray if you have it.
* Fight back aggressively if attacked.
* DO NOT crouch, play dead, run, or turn your back to the animal.
To a carnivore, your PET may look appetizing.
* Keep dogs on a leash and walk them in open areas during daylight hours only.
* Do not leave pets unattended outside.
As docile as they may seem, elk are wild animals too. Getting too close to elk may incite attacks, which have occurred at any time of the year. Females are most aggressive during the May/June calving season, and males are especially dangerous during the September/October period.
What should I do if I see a BEAR?
“Bears are really intelligent animals. And they are also bigger and faster than you.” says local bear expert Alan Richardson “So if you want to avoid trouble, you really do need to be smarter than the average bear.”
1. If you are driving: stay in your car, and consider not stopping.
2. If you are not in a vehicle:
* Stay calm. If a bear rears on its hind legs and waves its nose about, it is trying to identify you. Remain still and talk calmly so that it knows you are human and not a prey animal. Bears may also run toward you and turn away at the last moment. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack.
* Pick up children, stay in a group.
* Back away slowly. Do not run.
* Leave the area. If this is impossible, wait until the bear leaves; make sure it has an escape route.
3. Reduce your risk of a surprise encounter:
* Make noise. Clap, sing or yell to announce your presence, especially where a bear might not otherwise smell, hear or see you coming. (Bear bells are not very effective.)
* Travel in groups, on established trails, and during daylight hours.
* Minimize odours by proper storage of food, garbage and toiletries.
* Leave the area if you see a bear or fresh tracks, droppings, diggings; or if you come across a large dead animal (a bear may be nearby).
4. If you surprise a bear and it defends itself:
* Use bear spray if you have it. PLAY DEAD, let it know you are not a threat: lie on stomach with legs apart, cover back of head and neck with hands, keep pack on to protect your back.
5. If a bear stalks you and then attacks, or attacks at night:
* Try to escape, use bear spray if you have it. FIGHT BACK, let it know that you are not easy prey. (This kind of predatory attack is very rare.)
BEAR NECESSITIES IN JASPER
If you see a bear beside the road, keep the following bear facts in mind:
1. It may run onto the road. At any time, anywhere. Especially if there are crowds of people stopping to watch it, getting out of their cars, approaching too closely. In the past 10 years, 125 bears have been killed on roads in the national parks of the Canadian Rockies.
2. It is stronger and faster than you are.
A bear that appears unconcerned about your presence is the one you should fear the most. It’s obviously not afraid of you, and it could be getting a bit bothered by all the people who keep disturbing it – all day long, day after day…
3. It is likely eating or looking for food.
Bears have to eat almost constantly during the snow-free months to accumulate enough energy to survive their long winter hibernation. Being able to feed undisturbed may make the difference between life or death for that bear or, if it’s a female, for her offspring.
4. Female grizzly bears have a very low reproductive rate– only two litters of offspring in her lifetime. The unnatural loss of any individual, especially a female, is therefore a serious threat to the long-term survival of the population. Adolescent bears are highly susceptible to picking up bad habits (like losing its natural fear of people) and getting into trouble (by approaching people for food). Few roadside adolescent bears survive to maturity, causing scientists to fear for the future of the grizzly in this part of the world.
5. ‘Habituated’ bears that have lost their natural fear of humans almost inevitably become ‘problem’ bears. They actively seek out places where people congregate because they have learned that there will likely be food and garbage to eat. Over time they become increasingly more aggressive in their search for an easy meal.
“It’s really hard to predict the best strategy to use in the event of a bear attack,” says Richardson. “That’s why it is extremely important to put thought and energy into avoiding an encounter in the first place.”
Enjoy a safe and exciting visit and ensure that future generations of Jasper’s wildlife continue being truly wild.