Enter Canada’s vast wilderness and national parks where animals rule the kingdom.
Bull Elk, Jasper National Park, Alberta
High in the mountains of Jasper National Park, in the early morning light everything is silent, the only movement a herd of elk tracing a high ridgeline. Once ubiquitous in North America, elk were hunted almost to extinction by 1913. Reintroduced to Alberta from USA's Yellowstone National Park in 1917, today this region is home to one of the largest elk populations on the continent. Though valued by First Nations people for its hide, and a prized game animal, it’s the humble beauty, resilience and ability to thrive in vastly different environments that make the elk the ideal image of Canada’s wild and varied backcountry.
Red Fox, Nationwide
If there is one animal resourceful enough to survive anywhere, it’s the red fox. Found in all of Canada’s provinces and territories, red foxes make their home in mountains, forests, deserts, grasslands and even in human-dominated environments. Their reserved nature and intelligence has earned them a reputation for being cunning, while they are actually rather shy and playful. Foxes are solitary hunters with exceptional senses. They can hear low-frequency sounds such as prey digging underground, they can detect the slightest movement, and smell young prey hidden in dens nearby. While they are solitary hunters, foxes meet in the winter to mate, then both parents – the male dog and female vixen – stay together to care for their pups through the summer. Fox pups are blind at birth, opening their eyes at two weeks. Out by autumn, they are ready to find their own territory, sometimes travelling up to 250km to find a new home.
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Grizzly Bear, British Columbia
Perhaps the most feared and revered of Canada’s animals, the grizzly bear is a true symbol of the wild. Once widespread across North America, habitat loss and hunting have reduced the species' range to the northeast of Canada and the USA, with around 20,000 thought to reside in British Columbia today. Solitary animals, save for mothers and their cubs, grizzly bears are at the top of the food chain with no predators aside from humans. They are strong swimmers, can run at speeds up to 55km/h, and, unlike other bears, can remain active throughout winter without the need to hibernate. The best time to see bears in the wild is May through October. Ecotourism resorts, such as Great Bear Lodge, offer safe viewing programs where you can witness bears breeding in the spring to feeding on spawning Pacific Salmon through autumn.
Polar Bear, Churchill, Manitoba
As the planet warms and pack ice rapidly disappears, polar bears have become one of the most vulnerable mammals on Earth, forced to roam further to find food, shelter and reproduce. The remote southwestern shore of Hudson Bay at Churchill is the polar bear capital of the world, thanks to the thousand or so bears that gather in the subarctic tundra between July and November. Though the bears still thrive here, the tides, currents and ice formation increasingly affect their livelihood. Coming face to face with a bear on a tundra buggy expedition from Churchill is not just an only-in- Canada experience, it’s a window into how fragile the future of these incredible predators has become. Polar bears are no longer a mysterious animal in the deep Arctic, they’ve become a symbol for the alarming impact humans are having on the environment.
Orca, British Columbia
One of the world’s most powerful predators, the killer whale isn’t a whale at all – in fact, it’s the largest species of dolphin, inhabiting waters from the Arctic regions to the equator. Canada’s largest orca population is in the Pacific Northwest, in the coastal waters of British Columbia. Orcas live in both resident and transient pods, the former prefer eating fish and the latter hunt larger marine mammals, including seals, sea lions and a variety of whale species. Exceptionally intelligent mammals, they communicate with a sophisticated sonar system and employ pack-hunting tactics. Whale-watching charters depart from Vancouver and Victoria, with the season stretching from May through to October.
Snowy Owl, Montreal, Quebec
As white as the winter landscape it inhabits, the snowy owl is the largest and fiercest of North America’s owls with an average wingspan of 1.5m. While many stay in the Arctic tundra where they breed all year round, the owls are frequent migrants to southern Canada and the United States – so long as there is access to their favourite food, lemmings.
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Bighorn sheep, Yukon
The clash of horns when two male bighorn sheep fight is an unmistakable sound that can be heard echoing across mountain valleys in eastern Canada. Weighing up to 13kg – more than all of the bones in the ram's body combined – the horns are not just a weapon, but a symbol of status. With hooves designed to grip jagged rocks, and the ability to jump up to 6m, these sheep are found in high mountains from the southern Yukon Territory right down to the desert landscapes of the USA.
Blue Jay, Eastern Canada
Toronto’s baseball team may have been named the Blue Jays on a whim by their owner in 1976, but the bird has become an icon across eastern Canada. A noisy songbird typically found in pairs, blue jays feed mostly on acorns, nuts and seeds, though have been known to eat eggs, too. The one mystery scientists can’t quite figure out is their migration patterns – some birds head south for the winter annually, while others stay in the snow.
Beluga Whales, Churchill, Manitoba
Each summer, as beluga whales migrate south to escape the freezing Arctic Ocean, more than 57,000 of them congregate off the coast of Churchill – the largest beluga population in the world. Nicknamed ‘sea canaries’ for their ability to turn their heads, as well as their sophisticated language of clicks and whistles, belugas are a fascinating, friendly species. It’s possible to see these creatures from the shore as they swim in the Churchill River, on a Zodiac tour, by kayak or, for the most adventurous, even coming face to face with them on a snorkelling experience.
Atlantic Puffins, Newfoundland Island
Although they spend most of the year feeding out to sea, puffins return to the same mate and burrow each year to breed. Newfoundland Island on Canada’s east coast is the place to see them as it's home to 95 per cent of North America’s puffin colonies. Puffins make their nests in notoriously difficult-to-reach places to protect themselves from predators while mating and raising their young. While most colonies are only visible by boat, quiet, still birdwatchers have been known to have curious puffins land right next to them.
Moose, Muskoka, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario
Found in almost every Canadian province and territory, moose are synonymous with Canada. The largest member of the deer family, they can grow to weigh 400kg. Yet despite their immense size, moose are powerful swimmers within days of birth and able to dive more than five metres to feed on plants at the bottom of lakes. Sights like this one in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario are common in the summer months, but come winter, when moose shed their antlers, they can disappear into the wilderness with a stealthy silence.