Elk crossing in Banff National Park. Photo via Parks Canada.
Banff National Park is an enduring symbol of Canada’s wild frontier. More than the trees, mountains and fresh, clear water, it is the chance to see Banff’s abundant wildlife – bears, moose, elk and other creatures – that inspire people’s imaginations and attract the park’s many visitors. Whether you see them across a meadow during a hike, or spot them using one of the many wildlife crossings as you drive through the park, you know Banff is one of the special places on Earth.
When you come into the park, you’re entering the animals’ home. To put it in perspective, in one summer month over 500,000 people will visit the park, while the total black and grizzly bear population is less than 150. They can’t go anywhere else and the sad truth is if an animal encounter goes badly, it’s the animal who suffers.
If you’re fortunate enough to see an animal you’ve always wanted to see, there are some simple things you can do to make sure you have a memory you’ll cherish while ensuring the animal has been shown the respect and consideration it deserves.
A moose crosses in front of an automated camera. Photo via Parks Canada.
First, realize you’re not in your familiar city or town, and the rules are different. Banff has many attractive urban features, but move beyond the streets and groomed paths and you quickly discover this is not a city park. You need to develop an awareness of your surroundings, and listen to your guides on best practices for your own safety, as well as the animals’.
Second, give wildlife its space. Keep your distance. If you get too close, you can provoke a territorial response. So use that telephoto lens from the safety of your vehicle if you see a bear. Keep your vehicle moving if possible to avoid delaying traffic, and if you must pull over, do so only where you can do so safely: for you, and for everyone else around you. Don’t approach wildlife or attempt to feed them. They may become defensive, or just as bad, if the animal becomes acclimated to human contact, it’s likely to become a danger of a different kind.
Third, if you’re camping or out for the day in the back country, dispose of your food waste properly so wildlife is not attracted to it. Use designated receptacles or pack your waste out with you. Our food isn’t good for them, and it makes them dependent upon us instead of keeping the animals’ focus on its natural behaviour.
A grizzly bear crosses in front of an automated camera. Photo via Parks Canada.
Ideally, we all visit Banff to enjoy a level of natural surrounding we don’t normally have in our lives. By observing and enjoying the park’s wonders – and not disturbing its natural balance – we ensure an important piece of our world remains as untouched as possible and available to us in coming years.
A primary source for this article is the Parks Canada website and you can find a wealth of information there on the park’s many attractions and enjoying an exciting, safe visit.
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