Parks Canada warns visitor behaviour is changing bear habits

Parks Canada is warning the public about the dangers of bears and cougars at an Edmonton-area national park, hoping visitors can help keep themselves and the wildlife safe.

In any given year, more than 360,000 visitors come through Elk Island National Park.


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Located about 30 minutes east of Edmonton, Elk Island is known for its wildlife – especially the bison. But Parks Canada staff say there are two other animals visitors should think about: cougars and black bears.

There have been four cougar sightings so far in 2019 and about a dozen different bears have also been spotted.

Staff are urging people to keep moving when they encounter bears while driving.

“We do see that there are a number of people stopping on the roadside to look at bears and we do see that the bears are slowly getting used to the traffic and people stopping. They’re not moving off into hiding cover,” explained Ramona Maraj, Elk Island’s resource management officer.

The warning isn’t caused by any particular incident – it’s precautionary. You can, however, stop and take pictures of the bison from the safety of your car.

“Bears are a little bit different than other wildlife that way because they do get so habituated and conditioned to cars stopping. Other wildlife get that but it doesn’t really have the same consequences to them,” Maraj said.

She said park officials are also trying to combat the problem.

“We teach them that basically when a vehicle stops, they want to go into hiding cover. We offer a noxious stimulus, which is making noise or sometimes we hit them with a paintball gun or whatever it might take to teach them that vehicle stopping, it’s a bad thing and they want to move off and cover.”

When the bears get accustomed to people and cars, they’re also more likely to be drawn to camping or picnic sites.

There are a number of things that can attract bears: human food, pet food, dishes, citronella candles, dish soap, toothpaste, coolers, roasting sticks, juice containers, propane bottles, gas jugs and even sunscreen.

“The bears learn that that’s where they can get their quick meal. The analogy I’ve always liked to use is if you could have broccoli versus pizza, which would you have? You’re going to try and have pizza. Human food for bears is pizza, whereas the grass and the other things that bears eat are like broccoli. They try and get their quick calories,” Maraj said.

The best thing to do is secure everything that could smell interesting to a bear in a car or a bear locker.

If bears become too comfortable around people and threaten visitor safety, they could be destroyed.

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