Canada—a vast expanse of beautiful landscapes...
...spanning nearly 9.9 million square kilometres—is home that we share not only with over 34 million other people, but also an amazing array of wildlife. Since I was a child I was encouraged to explore all that this land has to offer—to live life as an adventure. Through my experiences, I have learned to respect wild spaces and all that live within them—from the tiniest creepy-crawlies to the larger (and scarier) mammals. Learn more Canada's most dangerous predators, featured in no particular order.
Polar bearThe polar bear is North America’s largest land carnivore. Adults maintain their impressive weights (up to 1500 pounds!) by eating primarily seals, walruses, belugas and narwhals.
Polar bears are natural-born hunters. The soles of their feet are adorned with small bumps and cavities, which allows them to grip on the ice they travel on. Their sharp, straight and non-retractable claws make it easy for them to hold heavy prey on slippery surfaces. Polar bears have large, jagged canine teeth with flat grinding surfaces, which aid their carnivorous appetites.
Along with these typical predatory characteristics, polar bears have amazing senses of smell and are able to detect seals in breathing holes from up to 1 km away. They are superb swimmers, traveling at up to 10 km per hour and at distances of 90 km without resting.
While satiated polar bears generally won't attack humans unless extremely provoked, hungry ones are unpredictable and have preyed on humans.
Read about Jerry Kobalenko's encounter with a hungry polar bear while on a solo snow trek on Ellesmere Island.
Brown bearThe Canadian brown bear, commonly known as coastal brown bear or inland grizzly, is the second largest land mammal in North America. (Polar bear is the first.) The average length of a brown bear is 1.8 m from nose to tail, and weight ranges from 350 to 1500 pounds. The brown 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.
Despite their large size, brown bears can run up to 55 km per hour. They live as solitary animals in dense forested areas, alpine meadows and the arctic tundra. Brown 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 brown bears can remain active all winter.
Even though they have the digestive systems of carnivores, brown bears are omnivorous, feeding mostly on vegetation. They may also feed on mammals and spawning salmon. Unfortunately like black bears, brown bears are attracted to human food. While living in Alberta, the number of brown bears killed on the railway tracks outside of Banff and Canmore was alarming. In fact, trains have become the number one threat to brown bears in Banff National Park—a threat that has helped put them on Canada's threatened species list.
Heading out for an adventure in bear country (especially during springtime—the brown bear’s mating season)? Take safety precautions to ensure you don’t cross paths with an unsuspecting brown bear.
Black bearWhile they're the smallest of the Canadian bears, weighing between 200 and 500 pounds, black bears are still dangerous predators. These extremely adaptable, solitary (except for female mothers who stay with their cubs for up to 17 months) and omnivorous animals typically live in forests and are excellent tree climbers. Although most of their diet consists of vegetation, black bears will also eat fish and mammals. They also easily develop a taste for human food and waste, making them one of the more commonly present bears in urban areas
Interesting fact: Black bears don't actually hibernate. It's true that they don't eat or drink, urinate or defecate during the winter months, and that they lose up to 30% of their body weight during this time. But they do wake up if disturbed, which doesn't happen with true hibernators.
Like other bears, black bears prefer escape and intimidation tactics when confronted by humans, but have been known to attack. Black bear attacks usually happen for one of three reasons: predatory, territorial (interestingly, black bears do not protect their territory from other black bears) or protective. Most attacks happen in parks and near campgrounds, where bears become accustomed to people and their food.
CougarIt’s no wonder that the cougar, the second largest wild cat found in the Americas (after the South American jaguar), is one of Canada’s most dangerous predators. This large cat, known throughout other parts of North America as the puma and mountain lion, can kill an animal up to four times its size. Cougars can sprint at 56 km an hour, jump 5.5. metres vertically, jump 9 metres horizontally, and see a span of 130 degrees—and those are just average numbers. Cougars live primarily in the Rocky Mountains and dark, forested areas of Western Canada, but there have also been sightings in Southern Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
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. While on a series of hikes in Western Canada, I heard stories that if you see a cougar, it’s because it wants to be seen and that it's likely stalking you. Not comforting—as we came across fresh cougar tracks several times.
Gray wolfWhile wolves can be dangerous, they're usually quite timid. Wolves have been known to act aggressively towards humans if provoked or threatened, but they rarely attack. The gray wolf is genetically identical to a domestic dog and capable of interbreeding.
Living and travelling in packs of 3-7 wolves within distinct hierarchical structures, there is always a dominant male and breeding female. Being the largest of the dog family, most animals that wolves pruned ey on (marmots, hares, badgers, foxes, weasels, ground squirrels, mice, hamsters, and voles) can outrun them. To make up for this disadvantage, wolves hunt together and take turns chasing the prey or creating ambushes.
CoyoteCoyotes are known as pests—that is, until recently. In October 2009, the first fatal coyote attack in Canada occurred at Cape Breton Highlands National Park, leading many to question just how dangerous this "pest" might actually be.
Coyotes are found throughout most of Canada. They are very social animals and maintain hierarchy in their packs, just like wolves. These carnivorous animals feed primarily on small rodents and hares, but they've been known to hunt deer when in packs. Weighing between 8 and 20 kg, the coyote has several predators, including the wolf, cougar and bear.
Wolverine"Wolverine" descends from a German term meaning "devours much," and the name is certainly fitting. Wolverines are omnivorous animals, eating nearly anything they comes across—berries and seasonal fruit, to small mice and birds, to moose and caribou. So how does an animal weighing, on average, only 15 kg, prey on a caribou? Wolverines can run up to 24 km an hour and have very sharp teeth and claws.
There are few documented cases of wolverine attacks on humans. A small number resulted in death, but many resulted in severe injury—wolverines can cause a lot of damage. Their front teeth are long and sharp, and their back teeth are rotated at a 90 degree angle, making tearing flesh easy, even from frozen carcasses. Their jaws are capable of crushing the bones of their prey—primarily to suck out marrow. Wolverine's claws are semi-retractable and they have very large paws, which act like snowshoes. And they're sneaky: wolverines hunt by climbing trees and pouncing on the backs of their prey.
Wolverines are the size of medium dogs and have been described as looking like skunks or a small bears. They're difficult to spot as they travel alone and are shy. Their frost-resistant (often brown) fur have made it a desirable hunting animal. This in combination with increasing human impact on its natural habitats has placed the eastern wolverine (of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador) on Canada's endangered species list. The western wolverine (of Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario) is currently listed as threatened.