Alberta’s provincial parks and protected areas provide excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing. We encourage you to actively discover, explore and experience nature. Please remember that you’re a guest in their home. Here are a few simple tips for safety around wildlife.
Wildlife Watching & Photography
Give wildlife space. Wildlife may look tame, but they are wild animals. Be cautious no matter when or where you see wildlife.
Keep at least three bus lengths (30 metres/100 feet) away from large animals.
Can’t tell if you’re far enough away? Use your thumb! Extend your thumb and place it in front of you aligned overtop the animal. If the animal is completely covered by your thumb (including both sides of the animal), you are at a safe distance. If your thumb does not cover the animal, slowly begin to retreat.
Keep about three times that distance (100 metres/325 feet) away from bears. Do not stop to see bears.
Do not surround, crowd or follow an animal.
Do not stalk or pursue wildlife and never follow an animal into the bush.
Photograph wildlife from a vehicle or observation area. If you see wildlife grazing at roadside, please don’t stop. Drive by slowly instead.
If you must stop to view roadside wildlife:
Avoid stopping along roadways during periods of high traffic volume.
Do not stop at or near hill crests, corners, or sharp curves and intersections.
Pull vehicles well onto the shoulder and park safely off the driving lanes. Use roadside pull-offs and parking areas to help avoid traffic congestion around wildlife.
Use your hazard lights.
Remain in your vehicle.
Stay at least 100 metres away even if you're in a vehicle. Wild animals need their space.
If you get out of your vehicle, do not trample vegetated areas.
Traffic congestion around wildlife sometimes results in motor vehicle accidents. Drive carefully and be observant of other drivers.
Choose the best time of day. Early morning and late afternoon/evening are the best times for viewing many species of birds and mammals.
Use viewing guides and equipment. Make use of binoculars and spotting scopes to get a close-up look. Bring field identification guides to help you identify what you see.
Keep Food Away From Wildlife
In campgrounds and day-use areas, never leave food or leftovers out.
Use bear-proof bins to promptly dispose of garbage.
Feeding or approaching wildlife too closely causes animals to lose their natural fear of people. They may become aggressive, even dangerous.
Feeding wildlife can also:
Attract animals to roadsides where they can be injured or killed by vehicles.
Harm or kill animals because treats offer poor nutrition.
Lead to eating garbage, which brings animals into conflict with people.
Affect your health. Direct contact with wildlife may expose you to rabies and tick-borne diseases.
Pets and Wildlife
As far as deer, rodents and birds are concerned, a dog is a carnivore. Even if they aren’t chased, wildlife tends to move away from dogs and may avoid anywhere they’ve been for days. Long term off-leash impact can result in wildlife moving from an area where they were once seen.
Wild animals rarely habituate to dogs, which means they may be avoiding their established territories, leading to people having fewer opportunities for sustainable and meaningful wildlife encounters and creating pressures in nearby areas where there is already a sustainable, native animal population.
Those contacts add up - The stress of repeated exposure to dogs means animals may not be eating normally, breeding or resting as much as they should, all leading to a suppressed immune function.
Wide-spread off-leash can affect us all - Dogs also impact animals and birds by passing on diseases to wildlife and even people. Harmful parasites found in their feces can pollute water and make it unsafe for swimming.
Cougars can usually be found in wooded, rocky areas and may den in dense underbrush, under an overhang of tree branches, under logs or in rock caves. If your next outdoor adventure takes you into cougar country, you should learn how to avoid human-cougar encounters whenever possible, and how to respond if you do encounter a cougar.
Precautions to take in cougar territory
Avoid surprise encounters. Make noise to alert cougars of your presence (cougars generally avoid people).
Look behind you regularly to make sure you’re not being followed.
Carry bear spray. Be prepared to use it to defend yourself if a cougar approaches within 12 metres (40 feet - equivalent to a bus length).
Keep children close. Never let them play outside unsupervised, near forested areas or at dusk or dawn.
Always walk your dog on a leash or leave it at home.
Avoid any area where you smell a dead animal - cougars often cover their kills with forest debris.
If you see a cougar in the distance
Cougars grooming or periodically looking away from you may simply be resting. In this case, avoid provoking the cougar:
Bring everyone in close and back away.
Do not run and do not turn your back.
Prepare to use your bear spray.
If the cougar is close
Cougars close and showing such behaviours as hissing, snarling, staring intensely and tracking your movements present a threat. You must show the cougar you are not a prey animal and you are able to fight back:
Do not run. Do not turn your back.
Make sure children and dogs stay calm. Keep them very close.
Make yourself look big. Wave your arms, open your jacket and do not crouch down or bend over.
Continue to use your noise deterrent and bear spray.
If the cougar makes contact
Continue using your bear spray.
Fight back with everything you can. Rocks, sticks or your fists should be aimed at the cougar's eyes and face.
If you're knocked down, get back up. Do not stop fighting.
Never play dead with a cougar.
When in Kananaskis Country, report cougar sightings to Kananaskis Emergency Services at 403-591-7755.
If you are outside Kananaskis Country, report cougar sightings to 310-LAND (5263)
Never approach the den site of any species. Stay back 200 metres from coyote, fox or wolf dens.
If approached by a wolf or coyote, respond aggressively by making yourself appear larger. Wave your arms overhead, shout in a deep voice or thrust long objects like a walking stick toward the animal.
If the coyote continues to approach, back away slowly and move toward buildings or human activity if the coyote continues to approach.
Do not turn away or run. This will encourage the coyote or wolf to chase you.
All elk can be dangerous.
Female elk can be especially aggressive during calving season (May and June).
Male elk can be aggressive during the autumn rut (September to October).
Do not approach elk or their calves - give them plenty of room.
Keep your dog on a leash.
Normally, moose are not aggressive; however a moose that is stressed, a bull moose in the fall rut or a cow moose protecting her young may be easily provoked into an attack.
An agitated moose may show some of the following behaviours:
Neck and back hairs standing up
Ears going back against its head
If you are charged by a moose, run away as fast as you can and try to find a car, tree or building to hide behind. If the moose knocks you down before you reach safety, do not fight - curl up into a ball and cover your head.
Moose rutting season is from late September to late October, where they are frequently on the move throughout the day and night.
Adjust your driving habits and be alert when travelling on roads closely bordered by trees or other cover.
To help prevent a possible confrontation, do not allow your dog to harass the moose and do not try to scare the moose off by yelling or throwing things.
Never approach moose calves that have been left alone by their mothers. The mother may have temporarily left the calf in a safe spot and may not be too far away. Moose mothers can also be very protective. If she senses that you are too near her calf, she may defend it.