Wildlife in Canada

In a discussion with an intern from Central Africa, I learned that she had never seen a lion in the wild. Nor had she seen a rhino, hippo, zebra or gazelle. She was embarrassed to tell me this, since people apparently expected that coming from central Africa, she lived in the jungle and possibly knew Tarzan personally.

In fact, she lived in a small city, and because her country had more than its share of violence, travelling was considered a dangerous activity. She never went to the places where the animals lived and they seldom ventured into the city. This is also true of Canada.

Most species of wildlife Canada is most famous for are seldom seen outside of the federal and provincial parks. If you live in a small Canadian city, you will most likely see about as much wildlife as you would in a small African city.

In even the largest urban areas in the country, you will usually see squirrels and raccoons. These species have adapted well to urban living and populations of both are actually on the increase. If you live in the Greater Toronto Area, you may also see foxes, usually crossing the road at night in suburban areas or streets that are close to the big ravine parks. In those same areas, you will sometimes see deer and coyotes, especially during very cold winters when they are willing to come into more populated areas in search of food. Coyotes can be dangerous – especially the ones that have crossbred with wolves. A young woman jogging in Nova Scotia was killed by a coyote a few years ago. In remote cities, bears occasionally kill toddlers, so it's wise to monitor your children at play. In the city of Victoria, on Vancouver Island, I remember a case where a cougar (a type of lion) got confused and led wildlife workers on a merry chase through the residential areas in the city.

In small towns and cities across Canada, it is not unusual to see bears – mostly black bears – scavenging around the waste dump and sometimes rooting through garbage cans.

In rural areas that raise livestock in Canada (especially Alberta), it is not unusual to see bounties offered on wolves and coyotes, that occasionally hunt and kill cattle and sheep.

But it would not be unusual in Canada for someone raised in a downtown urban area to never encounter any of Canada's famous wildlife.

Unless you live or frequently travel outside of the cities, you may well never see a moose or a beaver. Bighorn sheep, elk, moose and many other species are quite easy to find if you search for them, perhaps by taking a train or road trip through the rocky mountains. Unless you travel north, to a city like Churchhill, Manitoba, you will probably never see a polar bear or a caribou in its natural habitat. You will rarely see a grizzly bear outside of a national park.

Climate change has put considerable stress on arctic species, but most of the "at risk" species in Canada are aquatic species including, fish, whales and shellfish.

There's an alphabetical list of Aquatic Species at risk at the Canadian department of Fisheries and Oceans and a list of at risk, birds and mammals here - from Scientific Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).