The United Nations created the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site partly because of the incredible diversity of animals found here. Jasper National Park is home to 53 species of mammals, mammals that rely on a variety of habitats, some of which we share with them. When visiting the park, please remember that you are visiting the animals' habitat. Their continued health and survival relies on us making as little impact on their home as possible.
National Parks help protect uniquely Canadian landscapes along with the ecosystems that wildlife depend upon for their survival. When our actions reduce an animal’s wildness, the natural character of our national parks diminishes. Whether you plan to drive the roads, hike or bike the trails, or relax in town, take time to understand the important precautions wild areas demand. Your responsible behaviour affects the survival of wildlife and helps ensure your safety.
The chance of seeing wildlife is one of the most exciting things about visiting the mountain national parks. It is important to treat wild animals with respect. Approaching too closely threatens their survival. Once wildlife become accustomed to being around people, they are in danger of losing the very thing that makes them special – their wildness. Read the brochure Keep the Wild in Wildlife to learn more.
To help Parks Canada maintain healthy populations of animals in Jasper National Park, please :
- Do not approach wildlife - stay 30m (3 bus lengths) away from elk and 100m (10 bus lengths) away from bears;
- Do not feed wildlife, this is unlawful in a national park and is addictive;
- Remain in your vehicle when viewing wildlife from the road (use a telephoto lens to get that 'perfect' picture) and quickly continue on your way;
- Keep your campsite clean by keeping all attractants in your vehicle - coolers are not bear proof and even dishwater and dog food will attract an animal;
- Stay on designated trails - unofficial trails are often used by wildlife;
There are 29 species of small mammals in Jasper. They range in size from the pygmy shrew, which weighs only a few grams, to the beaver, which can weigh up to 20 kilograms. Except for shrews, bats and rabbits, these animals are all rodents. Following is a brief sampling of some of the more prominent small mammals in the park.
Columbian Ground Squirrel
The Columbian Ground Squirrel is the most commonly seen animal in the park during the summer. Although they hibernate for up to seven months, they are important prey for grizzly bears, coyotes, wolves and golden eagles. A winter hibernator, this ground squirrel may be seen throughout the park from the montane valleys to the alpine.
Hoary Marmots are colonial animals that live in the alpine zone. One of the largest rodents in the park, marmots reach weights of up to 12 kilograms. Marmots can be seen on a number of day hikes in the park, including The Whistlers, named after the loud whistling sound a marmot makes when alarmed.
Porcupines are common in the subalpine forests throughout the park. Like other rodents, porcupines chew bones and antlers to gain minerals. They are frequent visitors to backcountry campgrounds, mainly because tools and backpacks that humans have touched have a delicious salty residue left on them.
The beaver is the largest rodent in the park and usually hard at work in valley-bottom streams and ponds building lodges and practically indestructible dams out of sticks, stones, and mud. Hike around Cottonwood Slough, on Pyramid Bench, or the Valley of Five Lakes, south of town, about dawn or dusk to catch a glimpse of the industrious creatures. These wide-tailed toothy fellows eat the rich, pulpy cambium layer of tree bark. Their favourite flavour? Aspen.
The animal that became Canada's symbol was trapped to near extinction for its pelt and only concerted efforts by early conservationists, namely Parks Canada's first naturalist/interpreter Grey Owl (Archibald Belaney), saved it.
The pika or "rock rabbit" is the smallest member of the rabbit family. They live on rock slides and talus slopes from 6,000 to 8,500 feet. Although well camouflaged, pikas can often be located by their piercing call that sounds like a high-pitched "eep". They are often seen on the rockslides at Mount Edith Cavell.
The Deer Family
Deer have antlers that grow, fall off and re-grow annually. In the spring, the males* grow antlers that develop encased in a soft, fury coating called velvet. In the fall, once the antlers have fully grown, the velvet is rubbed off and the males use their new antlers to prove dominance over other males for the females. Over winter, the antlers drop off, becoming a valuable source of minerals for small mammals.
* The only exception is caribou. Both the males and females grow antlers in this species.
The moose is the largest member of the deer family. Easy to identify because of its long, gangly legs, palmed antlers, large, horse-like nose, and flap of skin hanging from the throat, called a dewlap. The moose is a solitary animal. Its preferred habitat in summer is along stream banks and lakeshores where aquatic plants add to its regular diet of leaves and twigs. The mating season is from mid-September to November, and males are particularly aggressive at this time. Calves (usually twins) are born in May and early June. There are about 150 moose in Jasper National Park. The Pocahontas Wetlands, Yellowhead Pass, and Maligne Lake are some of the best viewing opportunities in the park.
Elk are the park's most common seen ungulate. Tan-coloured animals with white rump patches, they can be seen throughout Jasper along the roadways and in the townsite. About 1300 elk live in Jasper National Park, with large populations east of the park in the foothills. Most of Jasper's elk have been re-introduced after hunting nearly extirpated them from the park at the turn of the last century. Today an increasing population of elk, especially in the townsite, has led to their relocation to other parts of the park and province.
Elk can be a very dangerous animals. In the spring, mother elk protect their newborn calves fiercely; warding off any creature that comes between them and their young. In the fall during the autumn rut, the bull elk become extremely aggressive, using their large racks of antlers to display their dominance. Each year, a number of people are injured by park elk -- do not approach any elk closer than thirty meters, and watch closely for any aggressive signs displayed by the animal (raised ears, glaring looks, snorting, stamping feet).
A mule deer's distinctive features include large ears and a black-tipped tail. Although mule deer are frequently seen along roads and in the townsite during the winter, their population levels remain fairly low. Standing only about a meter tall with antlers larger than a white-tale deer's, mule deer are most commonly found in small groups in drier open areas. Their summer diet includes shrubs and broad-leaved plants while their winter diet includes evergreen twigs, saplings, and shrubs foraged on open slopes and in aspen forests.
White-tailed deer are uncommon in the park, but can be seen in small numbers in the montane. Smaller than mule deer, white-tail deer can be easily identified by their reddish coats and long brown tails that, when held upright at any sign of alarm, show a white underside. Look for them at dawn and dusk along Snaring Road and the Henry House flats during the winter.
Caribou are comparable in size to elk, but are lighter in colour with large hooves. Unlike any other deer species, both the males and females carry antlers. Caribou generally form small herds and use their large hooves in the winter to "float" on top of the snow, helping them escape predators. Lichens are an important food source but grasses, broad-leaved plants and twigs are also included in their diet. Caribou are often sighted along the Icefields Parkway south of Sunwapta Falls and along the Maligne Road during winter. In the summer, finding caribou is very difficult as most herds retreat to high alpine meadows, far away from the many park visitors.
The small groups of caribou left in Jasper are probably the remnants of massive herds that roamed the area just after the last ice age. Now only around 145 are left in the Rockies, their numbers continuously declining since the 1950's due to logging of old growth forests, road kills, poaching and human encroachment. Roaming in and out of the park, the herds are susceptible to many kinds of conditions that have reduced the species population to threatened levels.
The Sheep and Goat Family
Unlike the antlers of the deer family, sheep and goats grow permanent horns. These horns grow a bit bigger every year and are used for the same purpose as antlers; establishing dominance over other males. Ridges and groves in horns are caused by seasonal fluctuations and allow scientists and park wardens to estimate the age of an animal.
Bighorn sheep are fairly common in the park; their populations hover around 3000. Bighorns have a sandy coloured coat and a white rump. Rams have massive curved horns while the ewe's horns are short and spiky. Bighorns are primarily grazers and migrate seasonally between low grassy slopes and alpine meadows, always ensuring that the safety of a rocky ledge is nearby. Sheep form mixed herds of males and females in winter and segregated herds in summer. During the fall mating season, rams battle for dominance by crashing horns together until the weaker animal gives up. Bighorn sheep are frequently seen on Highway 16 east of Jasper and along the Icefields Parkway near Tangle Falls.
Mountain goats can be distinguished from bighorn sheep by their white coats, beards, and short black dagger-like horns that are carried by both sexes. Mountain goats are actually not goats, but belong to a family of mountain antelopes. Females or nannies and their kids often form groups during the summer, but males or "billies" are generally solitary. During the rut, fights between billies are rare, but when they do occur, they are vicious. Goats are generalists and live on a wide variety of vegetation, allowing them to survive year round at elevations above 2000 metres. Mountain goats have no seasonal migration, but often trek to salt licks in the valleys. They can often be seen at the Mount Kerkeslin "Goat Lick" viewpoint on the Icefield Parkway and Disaster Point on Highway 16 east.
The Weasel Family
The weasels generally have elongated bodies, short legs, and glands that produce a strong-smelling scent. Among the many weasels found in the park is the largest member of the family, the wolverine, occasionally seen in the alpine tundra. The smaller pine martens are more common than the other weasels, and are abundant throughout the forested areas of the park. Other members of the weasel family found in Jasper include the ermine, the long-tailed weasel and the fisher.
The Dog Family
The coyote is a medium-sized grayish dog with a slender muzzle; large pointed ears, and a bushy tail. Coyotes are often seen patrolling the road right-of-ways in search of road kills and small rodents. Unlike a wolf, coyotes don't have a natural fear of human beings. They often patrol through the townsite, looking for garbage or stray cats. Coyotes that are being fed will often bite, sometimes seriously.
For your own safety and the health and well being of the animals, do not feed wildlife.
The wolf is similar in appearance to a large German Shepherd, but is lankier with longer legs, larger feet, weighing up to 60 kg and standing a meter high at the shoulder. Its muzzle is larger and less pointed (less fox-like) than that of a coyote. Most wolves in Jasper National Park are dark in colour, although colours do range from whitish-gray to black. Wolves are difficult to view in Jasper as the species is generally wary of any human presence and have large ranges that can cover over 1000 square kilometers.
Wolves, despite their fierce reputation, very rarely attack people. They do hunt nearly everything else though, especially deer, wapiti, moose, sheep, beaver, hares and mice. Usually wolves hunt in packs ranging from 4-7 animals and were the target of extermination programs in national parks during the first half of the 20th century. These magnificent beasts however were never completely hunted out of Jasper and still roam throughout the park's forests like they did before human arrival.
The Cat Family
Two members of the cat family are found in Jasper National Park. The largest is the mountain lion or cougar. Weighing nearly 70 kg, cougars are tawny-brown in colour with black-tipped tales. Although rarely seen, there is a small population in the park. In recent years cougars have been caught on camera nearer to human habitation than initially thought. Cougars though rarely attack humans.
The other member of the cat family that resides in Jasper National Park is the lynx. Lynx are nocturnal and rarely seen. Grey/brown in colour with tuffs of fur on their ears, lynx have distinctively long legs with large feet. Because of their intolerance of humans and night time hunting habits, the extent of their population in Jasper is unknown.
The Bear Family
Two types of bears inhabit the park: the black bear and the grizzly bear. Both these bears are scavengers and omnivorous, eating both vegetation and meat. Plants though, especially berries and roots, form the mainstay of their diet. This is supplemented by carrion (meat killed by other animals or that died naturally) and whatever small animals they managed to kill. Although bears do not truly hibernate (their body temperature remains high), they do become dormant in winter, usually in snow-dens, where females often have 1-4 cubs before spring. All wild animals in the park, including black bears grizzly bears are potentially dangerous. If you are planning on hiking or mountain biking in Jasper, you should carefully read the following information before setting out:
The black bear is commonly seen in forested areas, along roadsides and in campgrounds. It is smaller than the grizzly (weighing about 170 kg), lacks a hump on its shoulders, and has a straight, tan muzzle. Their colour varies from black to cinnamon while white patches on the chests are common. Short curved claws make them agile tree climbers. The black bear's diet is about 77 per cent vegetable, including grasses, roots, and berries (they are especially fond of dandelions and buffalo berries). Carrion and insects make up about 22 per cent of their diet and mammals a mere one per cent.
Black bears overlap their territories with other bears, often ranging up to 200 km2. Generally solitary except during breeding and sows with cubs, the black bears are more comfortable around humans than their cousin the grizzly and are therefore more commonly seen. Black bears are best viewed in the spring (April-June) and autumn (Sept-Oct) along roadsides and in berry patches, like the ones in Whistlers Campground.
Please be sure to store food and garbage in your vehicle while camping. Bears that become hooked on human food or garbage may have to be destroyed. For your own safety and the well-being of the bears, keep 100 meters or 10 bus lengths away from them at all times.
The grizzly bear, Jasper's monarch, is unmistakable because of the large muscular hump on its shoulders. The grizzly's face is concave in profile, its fur is long and thick and it can weigh up to 250 kg. The grizzly's colour varies but is usually light brown with some blond or white hairs giving it a grizzled or silver-tip effect. The claws are long and yellow or brown in colour. Averaging 15 centimetres in length, these claws are used for digging small mammals out of their dens or extracting roots. Generally an adult grizzly bear cannot climb trees, although a bear can use its massive strength to pull itself up using branches. Plant material is basic to the grizzly's diet: grasses, horsetails, berries, and the roots of the glacier lily, spring beauty, and pea vine make up most of the bear's diet. In the fall grizzlies will eat up to 200,000 buffalo berries each day, trying to put on enough fat to make it through hibernation. Carrion from winter mortality (animals that have died over the winter) is an important food source in the spring. Big game such as elk and their young are occasionally hunted, but this often takes more energy than its worth.
Grizzlies show pronounced seasonal migration, spending summer in the alpine areas and descending to the valleys in spring and fall when food is scarce. Ranging up to 4000 km2, grizzly bears have large territories that often extend outside of the park. The grizzly bear is particularly sensitive to human influence and because of this is watched closely. Being the top of the food chain, the health of the entire ecosystem can be assessed through the health of the grizzly bear population. Jasper currently supports a viable population of between 100 - 120 individuals but the continued existence of the grizzly depends upon the preservation of large areas of undisturbed wilderness.
Hikers and mountain bikers should familiarize themselves with the Keep the Wild in Wildlife brochure before starting their trip and should always make noise while on the trail.