Most people find it irresistible not to stop whenever they see a wild animal by the side of the highway.
Sometimes, the sight of a moose or bear or fox, a cute bunny rabbit or even a whale out in the ocean happens so unexpectedly that motorists pay little heed to where it is they are stopping.
Suddenly stopping in the middle of the road to view the wildlife, especially on a highway with a high posted speed limit, can pose a perilous situation. Approaching traffic may not have seen the animal and may not be expecting to have to brake without much warning.
Even pulling over to the side of the road can be hazardous if it’s on a sharp turn in the highway. Other traffic likely won’t be expecting to see a vehicle stopped in such unsafe locations.
In addition to not creating what it has dubbed a “wildlife or bear jam” on the highway, Parks Canada is urging motorists to limit interactions with wildlife. Getting too close to animals can be dangerous and feeding them is illegal.
According to Parks Canada, animals that become habituated to humans can become a danger to themselves and to the people they encounter.
Here are 10 tips to respect wildlife and stay safe:
1. Learn about the wildlife in the park you will be visiting
Each of Canada’s national parks is home to different wildlife species. Find out what species live in the national park you will be visiting. Check the park website before you leave or go to the visitor information kiosk or desk to ask for information about appropriate behaviour in the park and up-to-date advisories.
2. Feed yourself, but not wildlife
Feeding wild animals causes them to become food conditioned, which is dangerous for them and for you. It can cause them to lose their fear of people and their ability to find their own food sources, and to become increasingly aggressive towards people in seeking out non-natural foods. Feeding wildlife in a national park is illegal and you can be fined up to $25,000 under the Canada National Parks Act. This includes feeding them directly, by handing them food, or indirectly, by leaving garbage behind for them to find.
3. Keep your pets leashed or confined
Always keep pets on a leash and under control to keep them and the wildlife safe. Dogs can cause some wild animals to feel threatened and become agitated or aggressive. Every year, Parks Canada sees a number of incidents where off-leash dogs are injured – a situation that could likely have been avoided.
4. Keep your campsite clean
When camping, always store wildlife attractants like food, garbage, dishes and toiletries in designated wildlife-proof containers. Your appropriate, respectful behaviour will contribute to a healthy, functioning ecosystem. If a bear becomes conditioned to human food, he/she will likely return to the same location and may aggressively seek out human food. So don’t be the one who created a problem for the next camper.
5. Hike during the day – travel in groups
For your safety, always hike during the day and check the weather and trail conditions before leaving. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. For the best experience, take water and a snack, and wear sturdy shoes.
6. Make noise
Wild animals don’t like surprises! Talking loudly, clapping, blowing a whistle or singing lets them know you are coming, and gives them time to get out of the way.
7. Keep a safe distance from wildlife
Take photos from the safety of your vehicle if possible.
Stay at least 30 metre away from large animals and 100 metres away from bears. Approaching wildlife or allowing wildlife to approach you for any reason can lead them to losing their natural wariness of people. Once habituated, they are at greater risk of becoming food conditioned, struck by traffic and other unfortunate outcomes that put them at risk.
Bring your binoculars, or a telephoto lens to capture that once-in-a-lifetime photo of a wild animal in its natural environment.
If you are close enough to get a selfie, then you are already way too close.
8. Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings
Take notice of any signs that wildlife may be present, such as tracks, scat, or evidence of foraging. There is no substitute for staying alert, especially in the backcountry where help may be far away. You can contact local Parks Canada staff before you go hiking to help you know what signs to look for on the trails.
9. Carry bear spray
Carry bear spray and have it handy to use — just in case. When hiking, camping or going out for a jog along a trail, bear spray is an effective deterrent if used properly. Always carry your bear spray and know how to use it.
10. Stay on designated trails and respect all signage
Always stay on designated trails and find out about closures from Parks Canada staff in advance. Be prepared to adjust your travel plans if necessary. Closures often occur because of wildlife sightings and possible risks to visitors. Closures protect both wildlife and people and are put in place for your personal safety.