Banff Bears And Wildlife-Safety Tips
Banff is home to many people as well as to a variety of wild animals. This means tourists and locals must all follow certain rules to be safe and get along. First off, it is illegal to feed any wildlife….even squirrels or birds.
That bread crust may be o.k. for you, but may create an unnatural digestive rollercoaster for a squirrel or a chipmunk. The sad part is that many animals (when fed like that) become used to humans. Some may become aggressive and have even been known to attack people “thinking” they can get their paws on some food tidbits again.
Sure, it may look hilarious watching a “fella” fleeing from a ¼ pound “Rambo” squirrel. But try a mighty 500-pound plus grizzly bear “Extraordinaire”! What works well then? Depends® (pun intended)!
It is always fun and exciting to see a bear, even for us – for sure. But due to strict controls with garbage and numerous park and wildlife bear tracking efforts, it’s fairly rare to see bears right in town. You may catch a glimpse of bears usually deeper in the woods.
“Of course, as irony would have it, and as I am writing this, 2 bears have shown up right in the residential areas keeping us all on our toes.”
(Along Bow Valley Parkway – runs parallel with Trans Canada HWY from Banff To Lake Louise – is an excellent area to spot single bears or bear families near the road. That’s why the allowed speed there is only 60 Km/h.- Remember this tip on your way!)
Due to bears and other wild animals trotting on this territory, you will notice deep-green, locking, bear-proof garbage containers along residential and public areas. The bins are designed to keep the trash inaccessible to wildlife.
Banff Park area has the privilege to be home to numerous herds of elk. Elk during mating season (rut season), or with young calves (babies), can be amazingly fast and dangerous if approached or threatened in any way.
“Just this spring I ran into an elk with a new calf while running on a trail. Thanks to my Nike runners (ohhh?), I was able to scamper on with her chasing me only a few meters. Trust me it wasn’t as cool and calm as it looked having a large 500 lb. Momma Elk in hot pursuit of a scrawny runner in spandex pants.”
Kinda makes you think who the big wig of the woods really is – when stripped down to the outfit nature has given us – sorta .
Always give elk at least 3 bus lengths or more of “buffer zone” (safety space). If you do get chased by an elk, get behind a tree or any larger object to avoid the risk of being trampled over.
“Or, try to out run the slowest person on the path. Just kiddin’!”
Banff Wildlife – The Bigger Animals
Cougars (Mountain Lions) – the BIG cats – also live in the area. As they are mostly nocturnal (night) animals and extremely elusive, it’s rare to spot them out in the open.
Locals, like us, still enjoy many hikes and paths in spite of the risk of potential bear, elk or cougar encounters. Most of us carry a bear spray (pepper spray) or “bear bangers” (I love these small pen-style signal flares - but they may cause a forest fire when the weather is hot and the forest dry).
If the area is marked with “Caution Bear in Area” most of us stay away from the area or hike in groups of 4 or more.
Bear bell sounds (another bear distraction) do help by alerting a bear of your presence. Though, they can be annoying and keep you from REALLY listening to the quietness of the woods.
For some reason, we call bear bells “bear dinner bells”. “C’mon Smokie – more food is coming your way – eh!” – a message for the bruin that has a ring to it!
We personally never use bear bells since we love the quietness (but have “bear bangers” with us instead).
Grizzly Bears – are unpredictable and can be quickly recognized by their hump on the back. If you do happen to disturb a grizzly bear somewhere on a trail, it is important to stay calm and NOT to run. Right! All bears, contrary to their large cumbersome size, are astoundingly fast creatures. If you can, do stay calm and back away slowly.
Try not to use direct eye contact (for some reason it has been known to set off attacks). Don’t scream, shout or make loud noises. If the bear does charge you, try using a bear spray or a bear banger to impede the attack.
In the case that neither works, hit the ground with your hands behind the base of your neck and your legs spread wide. Experts say that most attacks only last a few minutes and this position seems to help protect the body the most.
“Brrr – that’s probably a ground-floor opportunity at its best – ha!”
Black Bears – are thought to be friendlier, or so they say. In our books – a bear is a bear – period. There may be times when you can easily scare off a black bear with making tons of noise. Then, there may be times when all your efforts are useless. In the case of a bear being cornered, or with a cub, it is best to stay calm, do not run – make room for them – slowly. If the bear charges you, try using a bear spray or a bear banger.
Climbing a tree or putting an object in front of you may help while trying to back away slowly. Talking calmly to the bear may also help while backing away – slowly.
A “Real Rush” experience not to sneeze at!
The truth is: it’s hard to remember to stay calm and even harder to do so. The first close solo encounter I ever had with a large black bear in a remote part of the woods left me – pound-for-pound of wisdom – brainless.
“The whole time I had my bear spray strapped onto my running shorts. However, I did ever so slowly walk “backwards. To my surprise, so did the bear while standing on her hind legs. At that very moment, my calm words weren’t of the “sweet-nothing nature” but rather breathless curses. Then, when back on a “civilized” trail, I took off like a bat out of hell!
Based on my several experiences with bears, when all is said and done without sugarcoating it – that’s when you discover how you’ll react in a real situation – the acid test.
Mind ya, this kind of a “beary” situation may never happen to you in a million years, though. It’s truly very rare, but the potential’s there. So, be aware!
And that’s all for this – geez that’s a long note – about Banff bears and wildlife creatures great and small of the Canadian Rockies.