Canada spans nearly 9.9 million square kilometres. We share this home with an amazing array of wildlife. Explore encourages North Americans to "live the adventure" while respecting wild spaces and all that live within them, from the tiniest creepy-crawlies to larger mammals.
Here are seven predators that live in Canada.
Approximately 16,000 polar bears live in Canada. They can live 20 to 30 years and spend most of their time on sea ice. Adult males can grow up to 2.5 metres tall and weigh up to 775 kilograms. They primarily feed on seals, but also hunt walruses and beluga whales.
Polar bears have transparent fur and black skin. Their front paws are large, flat and act as paddles while they swim and hunt underwater. The soles of their feet are adorned with small bumps, which allow them to grip on the ice as they travel. Polar bears have 42 teeth, which aid their carnivorous appetites. Their only natural predator is other polar bears—and humans.
Polar bears generally won't attack humans unless provoked. Hungry, aggressive, protective or territorial bears that are unaccustomed to people can be unpredictable and have attacked humans. However, the number of polar bears hunted for sport or for meat greatly outnumbers the humans killed by polar bears. Canada is committed to protecting this vulnerable species that has been negatively impacted due to climate change.
Learn more about polar bears here
Approximately 25,000 grizzly bears live in Canada. Grizzlies can weigh up to 400 kilograms and stand over two metres tall. The grizzly bear is distinguished from the black bear not by its colour, but by its large shoulder hump, very long front claws, concave and dish-shaped face, and rounded ears. The Canadian grizzly is called a brown bear outside of North America.
Despite being large and muscular, grizzly bears are fantastic runners (which is why no one should ever try to out-run a grizzly). They live as solitary animals (unless with cubs) in densely forested areas, alpine meadows and the arctic tundra. Grizzly bears have no natural predators other than humans. Like black bears, they're not true hibernators—their body temperatures may drop and respiration may slow, but grizzly bears can remain active all winter.
Grizzly bears have widely varying diets that depend mainly on the season and available food sources. Grizzlies are omnivores, feeding up to 98 per cent on vegetation. However, they are highly adaptable and can also be up to 81 per cent carnivorous. When eating animal protein, grizzlies feed on mammals and spawning salmon. Unfortunately, like black bears, grizzly bears are attracted to human food. The saying goes: "A fed bear is a dead bear." The grizzly population has been negatively affected by human impacts, habitat loss and climate change.
Heading out for an adventure in bear country (especially during springtime—mating season)? Take safety precautions to ensure you don’t cross paths with an unsuspecting grizzly.
Learn more about grizzly bears here
More than 380,000 black bears live in Canada. Considerably smaller than grizzly and polar bears, black bears can weigh up to 290 kilograms, although most adult males weigh around 135 kilograms. They are approximately 150 to 180 centimetres long, with straight faces, tall ears, shorter front claws and the lack of an obvious hump.
Black bears can also be brown, blond or cinnamon. They are extremely adaptable, solitary (except for mothers with cubs) and omnivorous animals. Black bears typically live in forests and are excellent tree climbers. Although most of their diet consists of vegetation, black bears also eat fish and mammals. They can also develop a taste for human food and waste, making them one of the more commonly present bears in urban areas, and therefore in danger of being euthanized.
Black bears prefer escape and intimidation tactics when confronted by humans, but will sometimes attack, especially as humans continue to encroach on their territory. Watch for markings on trees, which black bears make with their claws and teeth. Before exploring in bear country, become bear aware.
Learn more about black bears here
Download the bear awareness colouring book for kids
It’s estimated that 4,000 cougars live in Canada, of which 3,500 reside in British Columbia. These large cats weigh around 60 to 80 kilograms and live 10 to 12 years in the wild. Cougars have long tails, small rounded ears and red, grey or brown fur.
Also known as a puma or a mountain lion, a cougar can kill an animal up to four times its size. Cougars can sprint at 56 kilometres an hour, jump five to 10 metres and see a span of 130 degrees. Cougar's claws are retractable and emerge only when they're hunting. Despite their incredible land speed, cougars rarely chase their prey. Instead, they prefer to stalk and surprise attack.
Cougars live primarily in the Rocky Mountains and dark, forested areas of Western Canada, where they are less likely to be seen. You may hear that if you see a cougar, it’s because it wants to be seen and that it's likely stalking you, and it may be the last thing you'll ever see. However, fatal attacks are rare.
Unfortunately, humans continue to destroy cougar habitats. Typically, cougars attack when they are starving, territorial or desperate. Prevention is the most important step, but here's how to survive a cougar attack.
Approximately 60,000 grey wolves live in Canada. Hunting and habitat loss has dramatically decreased the wolf's population worldwide. Males weigh approximately 45 kilograms; females weigh approximately 38 kilograms; both have bodies 1.2 to two metres long. The grey wolf looks similar to domestic dogs, such as German shepherds, and is capable of interbreeding.
Wolves live in forests, tundra, plains and mountains, and give birth in dens. These pack animals typically travel in groups of five to 12. Their diet consists of ungulates including deer, moose, caribou and elk, as well as smaller prey.
While wolves can be dangerous, they're usually quite timid. Wolves have been known to act aggressively towards humans if provoked, threatened or rabid, but they rarely attack and more often avoid people. If you've seen The Grey, you'll still want to know how to survive just in case.
Learn more about grey wolves here
The coyote is so widespread in Canada, it's difficult to find an exact population estimate. Weighing between 8 and 23 kilograms, the coyote has several predators, including the wolf, cougar and bear. Coyotes resemble medium-sized dogs and wolves.
Although they can be found throughout North America in forests and urban areas, coyotes typically live in open prairies and desert. They feed primarily on small rodents and hares, and local vegetation such as berries, fruits and nuts. When hunting in packs, coyotes sometimes catch larger game like deer. They are opportunistic eaters (think: bugs, snakes and trash) and have been known to prey on livestock, small dogs and house cats. They can jump 1.5 metres and run up to 64 kilometres per hour.
Coyotes don't see humans as food sources unless they've been "food conditioned." Coyotes are extremely curious and, like most animals, may chase people who run away. If a coyote appears aggressive, stand your ground, wave your arms, throw rocks and make loud noises to show that you are not easy prey. As of 2020, there is only one confirmed case of a coyote pack attacking and killing a human in Canada.
There are approximately 15,000 to 19,000 wolverines left in Canada. Trapping, hunting and increasing human impact such as deforestation has placed the eastern wolverine (of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador) on Canada's endangered species list. The western wolverine is currently listed as special concern. Wolverines weigh 9 to 18 kilograms and look like skunks or a small bears.
Wolverines are omnivorous scavengers that eat everything from berries and seasonal vegetation to mice and moose carcasses. Wolverines tend to pick at the remains of animals other predators have killed.
Research suggests that wolverines kill livestock, small animals and even moose, but there are no documented attacks on humans. Wolverines are strong and aggressive; however, they may be more bark than bite: standing your ground during a dramatic face off will likely cause them to back away.
Learn more about wolverines here
P.S. Looking for more wildlife, hiking trails and epic adventure articles?
Subscribe to Explore magazine today!
Click here for subscription options