Banff’s Beasts

Banff National Park is home to more than 50 different species of mammals. Pine martins and porcupines can be spotted during training at Lake Louise and if you’re really lucky you may spot a Lynx on the slopes. Bears can sometimes be seen around Banff from early April and big horn sheep and elk are a regular sighting. Some are cute, some are terrifying and all should be given plenty of space to keep them wild.

Wolverine

Wolverine by Paul Sangeorzon

Wolverine by Paul Sangeorzon

You may have thought that the wolverine existed only in the Marvel universe but here in Banff we know them to be a very real if very elusive creature. The wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family, often mistaken for a small bear they are close in size to a medium dog weighing up to 18kg. Found throughout high elevation forests and well into the harsh alpine, the wolverine covers a phenomenal amount of territory, they can range over 3000 km2, that’s a larger area than Staffordshire!

Wolverines have a rich, chocolate brown coat with blonde stripes down the sides. If you see a wolverine consider yourself very lucky, they are rarely spotted. Be sure to give them lots of space though, they are known to be rather ferocious and can take down animals as large as caribou.

 

The Deer Family  

Banff is home to a few distinct deer. Elk are the animal we can almost guarantee you will see and sometimes hear as they can be quite vocal. They are also the most dangerous animal in the park. They may seem harmless compared to lions and bears but mother elk protect their newborn calves fiercely and during the autumn rut bull elk become extremely aggressive using their large racks of antlers to display their dominance. Its important to keep a safe distance from any and all wildlife you spot. Elk are light brown with dark faces, necks and legs with a creamy-colored rump patch and stubby tail. This large herbivore can weigh up to 450 kg.

Elk in Banff. Photo by Hans Wobbe

Elk in Banff. Photo by Hans Wobbe

Moose are the largest deer in the park.  A diet of both terrestrial and aquatic vegetation allows them to weigh up to 800kg. Impressively they can still move quickly on land and in the water, they are keen swimmers and have been known to dive up to 6 meters deep. Unlike most other deer species, moose do not form herds and are solitary animals. They are built similarly to a horse with shovel like antlers and live in wet, marshy areas.

Moose. Photo from National Wildlife Federation

Moose. Photo from National Wildlife Federation

 

 

Big Cats

The cougar or mountain lion is the largest cat in Canada. Weighing in at up to 100kg the cougar is a lean machine and can move at speeds of up to 80km/h. Very stealthy the cat is almost never seen in the wild although signs indicate that there is a small but healthy population of approximately 7-10 animals in Banff National Park. A worthy predator, cougars have a field of vision that spans 130 degrees and can kill an animal four times its size because of its muscular form and stealth.

Cougar snapped by Parks Canada cams in Banff

Cougar snapped by Parks Canada cams in Banff

A Canada Lynx looks very cute and cuddly but thanks to big eyes and superior hearing they are excellent night hunters. Lynx are not especially fast runners but have expert camouflage in winter they sport a fur coat that is thick, long and grey, great for hiding in the snow. In summer, the coats are short, thin and light brown for blending into the forest. They also have distinctive tufts on their ears as well as a short black tipped tail.

A lynx padding through snow in Banff. Picture from Parks Canada

A lynx padding through snow in Banff. Picture from Parks Canada

 

Bears

Two types of bears call Banff home. Black bears are the smaller of the two weighing up to 140kgs. As omnivores it is estimated that 85% of a Black Bear’s diet is made up of berries, roots and bulbs. The name can be misleading as these bears range in colour from a light cinnamon brown to jet black.

Large adult male black bear in Banff. John Marriott

Large adult male black bear in Banff. John Marriott

Much bigger than the black bear a grizzly can weigh in at 350kg. Banff National Park provides a perfect habitat for these bears of subalpine forest, alpine tundra, rock and ice. There are more grizzly’s than black bears in the park but black bear sightings are more common due to their habitat overlapping with that of us humans. There is a bear who lives here in the park called the Boss, this notorious bear is nationally famed for fathering many of Banff’s bears, eating two black bears and being hit by a train. Not much seems to phase this beast and we hope he’s around for a while longer yet.

Grizzly Bear. Image: BanffJasperCollection

Grizzly Bear. Image: BanffJasperCollection

 

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