Wildlife in the Canadian Rockies
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Banff has an enormously wide range of habitats due to the variety of elevation, climate, and plant communities within the parks borders. In this relatively small area there is an incredible diversity of wildlife, with over 50 species of mammals. Here is a short description of some the parks larger animals.
Perhaps the most famous of all Banff wildlife is the grizzly bear. This area has the perfect habitat for the great bear. Made up of sub-alpine forest, alpine tundra, meadows, rock, ice, avalanche slides all of which directly or indirectly contribute to the grizzlies existence. Unfortunately, it is the presence of humans that is the bears biggest problem which is something the park is well aware of and actively working on solutions for.
While there are more grizzlies in the park, you're more likely to come across a black bear since they frequent the low lying valleys that the parks roads pass through, rather than the higher backcountry elevations that the grizzlies favour.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between the grizzly and back bear because both bears have coats with a wide array of colors. These range from jet black to light cinnamon brown or almost white. The distinguishing feature between the two is the muscular hump on the shoulders of the grizzly formed by the muscles of its massive forelegs. This area of the bear has the "grizzled fur" that gave them their name. Grizzlies are, as a rule, larger than the black bear weighing in at as much as 500 kg. The blacks maximum weight is more in the vicinity of 290 kg. The average weights of these bears is generally closer to half of these extremes. The grizzly also has a more dished face and proportionally longer claw (if you happen to be close enough to see). "Teddy", is not the image conjured up on the site of an adult grizzly. Bear Etiquette. Enjoy, and above all, respect these great animals of the Rockies. This is their home and they need their privacy and your understanding to co-exist with us in such a popular area.


Mountain Sheep are another very common site in Banff. They are extremely well adapted to the elevations of the Rockies. They are almost as agile as the mountain goats in steep terrain but they can move much faster because or their characteristic leaping and bounding, reminiscent of a deer.

One of the problems with our curiosity towards these animals is their adaptation to the site of us. People seem to have a natural urge to to feed them in order too get a better look. These pictures show the danger that befalls them when cars look like a diner. A mother sheep is teaching her young, as she was taught by her mother that the highway is a possible meal instead of a killing ground for wild animals. Don't contribute to this situation and please discourage others from interfering with the natural process.
   Two good areas to view the sheep and take photos are around Lake Minnewanka or on Mount Norquay Road but remember to enjoy them and not to feed them.

If you are lucky enough to see a ram (a male) you'll notice his massive curved spiral horns. These make them easily identifiable more so than the ewes (the female) which have short, brown horns.

The elusive mountain goat is a symbol of the Rockies. There are many of them in Banff but they are difficult to see because of their preference for high rocky ridges in the high country. If you want to have a better chance of seeing these spectacular animals with their long white coats and beards then take a hike to the the Plain of Six Glaciers or the slopes of Mt. Fairview beside Lake Louise. Binoculars are a good idea unless your really lucky.
Wild cats, like many other animals are nocturnal and very shy. It is rare to see either of the two types of wild cat that are found in Banff. There is a modest but healthy cougar and lynx population in the park. They, unlike the two types of bear in the park are dissimilar enough to tell them apart easily. The cougar is the larger of the two, and has distinctive black markings on the back of the ears, the tip of the tail and on the face.
The most distinguishing features of the cougar are its size and tail which is thick and very long. The lynx has a short tail, prominent ear tufts and large feet and is noticeably smaller than the cougar. The large feet of the lynx become covered in coarse hair in the winter and act as snowshoes allowing for easier winter travel.
The Mule and White-tail are the two types of deer seen in the park. You're most likely to see them grazing along the Bow Valley Parkway early in the year.
Spring is also the time to spy a mother and her spotted fawn. The two species are very similar but the mule deer's large upright ears make it easy to differentiate between the two. The mule and white tail live in harmony with each other, as is characteristic of this species personality. You might get a glimpse of a moose traveling along the Icefields Parkway but their population is relatively low in the park, the habitat being more favorable to the deer.
Elk are the most common (not to mention the most famous) of the deer family in Banff. Wapiti, meaning white rump is their Indian name. The bull elks spectacular antlers have made them a photographers delight for years. In the autumn rut, the bulls become very aggressive towards people, so extreme caution should be taken. The spring is also a delicate time, with the mothers protecting their newborn calves making them as dangerous as a mother bear with young.
Caribou also have a presence in the northern end of the park in the Siffleur Watershed area but the herd is small and highly protected.
Wolfs coyotes and foxes are the three representatives of the canine world in Banff. The most common is the wolf, which from a distance can be mistaken for our domestic sidekick, the German shepherd. At closer inspection you'll note they are rougher looking, with longer legs and larger feet. Their coats range in color from light whitish-grey to grey-brown all the way to black.
While reminiscent of the wolf, the coyote is smaller, with a long slender muzzle and large pointed ears. You can often see them at Vermilion Lakes, and the Bow Valley Parkway hunting for small mammals and road kill.

The fox is easily distinguishable from the coyote and wolf with a sharply pointed face, special markings and a very large bushy tail. Their eating habits are very much like that of the coyote, becoming most active toward sunset, during the night, and in early morning.

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