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Wild Animal Safety in BC

BC’s beautiful natural landscape is a vast playground for those who love exploring the outdoors, but it’s also home to diverse wildlife such as bears, wolves, and mountain lions. You may encounter these animals on a trail, near a camping site, or even in your communities.  

To ensure the safety of all involved, it’s important on these outdoor adventures to travel in groups where you can, making sure to stay close together. It’s also a good idea to carry deterrents such as noisemakers (like air horns) and bear spray in case of emergencies. 

Most importantly, be informed and aware of how to avoid crossing paths with wildlife creatures—and how to self-protect if you do encounter one.  

To avoid an encounter, be sure to keep: 

  • To familiar terrain/official trails and travel during the daytime. 
  • An eye out for signs of fresh tracks, droppings, animal remains, unconsumed prey hidden under debris, and disturbed vegetation such as torn sticks, logs, and tree markings. 
  • Making lots of noise every so often. 
  • A safe distance from wild animals. Never feed wildlife because doing so may result in food conditioning and human habituation, which means they grow accustomed to your presence. Feeding deer, raccoons, or small rodents may also indirectly attract predatory animals such as mountain lions. 
  • Everything clean. Lock away all food, belongings, and waste. 
  • Children close. 
  • Pets home or otherwise leashed. Roaming pets can provoke defensive behaviour in wild animals, so it’s best to leave them at home. Bringing dogs may be a good idea, as they may help detect wild animals and warn you ahead of an encounter. Just remember to have them leashed. 

There is still a chance that you will encounter wildlife even if you follow the above tips. In these cases, remember to stay calm. Your way out of the sticky situation varies depending on which animal you come across. See the next page for animal-specific tips!  

Bears 

Black bears are common in BC and are sighted regularly within city limits. They come in a variety of colours, including black, brown, and even white! Though very unlikely to stalk, pursue, or attack aggressively, they are extremely sensitive to disturbances within their ecosystem and may feel threatened by human presence, especially when travelling with their young. Grizzly bears are also common in BC, though are more often found in remote areas. If a bear approaches:  

 

DO 

  • Back away slowly.
  • Keep a clear route for the bear open at all times.
  • Prepare for a defensive attack, which can happen if bears feel threatened, are defending cubs, or are protecting food (including garbage cans.) They will rarely make contact, but will often huff, hop, and slap the ground.
  • If the bear gets too close, use bear spray and talk loudly and firmly. If you aren’t next to their food or cubs, you can play dead. Roll on your stomach and cover the back of your neck with both hands until they lose interest in you. 

DO NOT 

  • Run.
  • Move closer. 
  • Turn your back.
  • Make eye contact. 

 

Wolves 

Wolves usually avoid encounters with humans. However, they may approach visitors if they become habituated to areas regularly occupied by humans, such as camping sites. They can also become food-conditioned due to direct or indirect feeding by humans. In the city, you are more likely to see coyotes, which are more of a threat to pets and children due to their smaller size. If a wolf approaches: 

 

DO 

  • Back away slowly. 
  • Appear big and be aggressive while maintaining eye contact. To convince the wolf that you are a threat and not prey, raise and wave your arms to look as large as possible. Make lots of noise and throw sticks or rocks to scare it away.
  • Use bear spray if it attacks. 

DO NOT 

  • Run.
  • Turn your back.
  • Play dead.  

Mountain lions 

Mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, are solitary creatures and will usually avoid humans. However, they may mistake children for prey due to their smaller sizes, higher-pitched voices, and unpredictable movements. Never let children wander or leave them unattended. If a mountain lion approaches: 

 

 

DO 

  • Back away slowly. 
  • Pick all children and/or pets up.
  • Appear big and be aggressive while maintaining eye contact. Stand tall and wave your arms to convince the mountain lion that you are a threat.
  • Speak in a loud, assertive voice. 
  • Make lots of noise. 
  • Throw sticks or rocks to scare it away.
  • Use bear spray if it gets too close or attacks.  

DO NOT 

  • Bend or crouch as this may make you look like prey.
  • Turn your back.
  • Play dead.
  • Run. 

 

Always remember that BC is home to both humans and wildlife. When enjoying the outdoors, be prepared, alert, and aware of what to do if you ever encounter a wild animal. By doing so, you can help keep BC a safe place for both communities to coexist in harmony. To learn more about wildlife in BC, visit wildsafebc.com. 

 

References: 

“Cougar.” WildsafeBC, January 24, 2022. wildsafebc.com/species/cougar/. 

Government of Canada, RCMP. “Cougar Season.” BC RCMP, June 4, 2013. bc-cb.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/ViewPage.action?languageId=1&siteNodeId=2082&contentId=25694. 

Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “Cougars.” Province of British Columbia. Province of British Columbia, November 2, 2017. www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/plants-animals-ecosystems/wildlife/human-wildlife-conflict/staying-safe-around-wildlife/cougars. 

Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “Wolves & Coyotes.” Province of British Columbia. Province of British Columbia, June 18, 2018. www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/plants-animals-ecosystems/wildlife/human-wildlife-conflict/staying-safe-around-wildlife/wolves-coyotes. 

Ministry of Environment. “Staying Safe in Bear Country.” Province of British Columbia. Accessed August 19, 2022. bcparks.ca/explore/misc/bears/. 

Ministry of Environment. “Wolf Safety.” BC Parks. Province of British Columbia. Accessed August 19, 2022. bcparks.ca/explore/misc/wolves/. 

Parks Canada Agency, Government of Canada. “Safe Travel in Bear Country.” Safe travel in bear country – The mountain national parks, October 23, 2017. pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/mtn/ours-bears/securite-safety/ours-humains-bears-people.