Descriptions of several mammals in the park are provided below. Shúhtaǫt’ine (Mountain Dene) names for each species reflect the rich knowledge and deep relationship with the environment that the Sahtu Dene and Métis people have developed over many generations as harvesters and travellers in the Nááts’įhch’oh National Park Reserve area.
Grizzly bear – Sahcho
One of the iconic animals of the Shúhta (Central Mackenzie Mountains), grizzly bears are known for their immense strength and imposing stature. Physiological extremes define this species: newborn cubs weigh as little as 500 grams but, as mature adults, they can put on over 150 kg of fat reserves in the weeks before they hibernate! Their big appetites lead them in search of berries, roots, and other food during the late summer and early autumn. Distinguishing features include long claws, a shoulder hump, rounded facial profile, and wiry – “grizzled” – brown fur.
The Sahtu Dene and Métis people explain that showing respect for this species is an important part of culturally-conscious visits to the park. The name of this bear is not traditionally spoken; instead, people refer to it indirectly, calling it “the big guy”. Be sure to keep campsites clean and free from attractants to minimize the chance of attracting these majestic animals.
Black bear – Sah dezene
Although their name suggests that they are black in colour, these bears can have fur that is blonde, reddish (cinnamon), brown, or black. With smaller average body sizes, shorter claws, and pointier ears, black bears look distinctly different than their grizzly counterparts. Their agility allows them to quickly climb trees and to run at speeds topping 50 km/h, exceeding even the fastest Olympic sprinters. Black bears are found only in North America and have an omnivorous diet of insects, berries, roots, vegetation, and other foods.
Moose – Įts’é
These gentle giants are attracted to moist, valley-bottom areas where they can find lush vegetation to graze on during the summer months. They are adept swimmers and often wade into wetlands and lakes in search of aquatic plants. Only male moose have antlers; they start growing them in March and shed them after the rutting (mating) season in autumn. Although their long legs and muscular torsos make them appear awkward, they can bound 2.4 meters in a single stride, running up to 55 km/h!
Moose are an important animal in Sahtu Dene and Métis culture. Their meat is a source of food, while their hides can be used to make durable footwear and clothing. In the past, they were also used to construct moose skin boats. These vessels were hand-hewn from sturdy trees and several moose hides stitched together, transporting people and goods down rivers from the mountains.
Caribou - Epę́
The caribou in this region are known as the Northern Mountain population of woodland caribou. They have been an important food source and part of the Sahtu Dene and Métis culture for many generations. Coming to the mountains each spring, caribou calve in the sheltered valleys and graze on new vegetative growth. They also feed on ground-covering lichens, weaving impressively steep trails up mountain slopes and passes as they search for good grazing sites. This is the only ungulate species in which both males and females grow antlers, although they keep them for different periods of time. Males grow them over the summer and shed them after mating in the autumn, while females keep their antlers until after spring calving. In December and January, caribou leave the park, descending to the lowlands for the winter.
Recent declines in the sizes of some herds of Northern Mountain caribou have led to their designation as a species at risk. Parks Canada monitors caribou populations in the park using a network of remote wildlife cameras. The resulting images provide information about their body condition, reproduction, and patterns of land use in the park.
Lynx – Nǫ́da
These feline predators roam throughout the park in search of small mammals. Their main prey is the snowshoe hare and, historically, numbers of both these species move through paired 10-year cycles of abundance and decline. Lynx have short, stubby tails and wide, furry paws that give them the ability to move easily over deep snow. Sightings of these animals are rare; their stealthy behaviour and keen senses allow them to detect and keep well away from human visitors.
Wolf – Díga
Wolves are social animals with complex behaviours and vocalisations. One pack in the park is 17 members strong! Males and females can form long-lasting pair bonds within these packs, which communicate through long, projecting howls. These characteristic sounds can convey a range of information, passing on warnings, rallying calls, or location details to other wolves. They often have multi-coloured coats, with colours ranging from white to black. Their body sizes are larger than all but the biggest breeds of domesticated dog.
Wolverine – Nǫ́gha
These secretive but fierce hunters roam large territories within the park, scavenging from carcasses and preying on small mammals. Their sharp claws and extremely powerful jaws allow them to feed with ease on frozen meat – including crushing bones. Wolverines’ fur provides another special adaptation to cold conditions: their hairs quickly shed snow and frost to keep their bodies warm.
This species also holds a special place of respect within Shúhtaǫt’ine culture. Wolverines are regarded as fast, clever animals that should be given space to hunt undisturbed.
Pine marten – Nǫfǝ
Like other members of the weasel (mustelid) family, marten are carnivorous, seeking prey like insects, birds, and mice. Individual marten have large territories that can measure several square kilometers in size, although they themselves are quite small; adults usually weigh no more than 1.5 kg. They have a reddish brown coat and large, bushy tail that helps them balance while climbing. Other small mustelids, like least weasels and ermine, are also found in the park.
Beaver – Tsá
As busy “landscape architects” in the park’s valleys, beavers create new wetland and pond habitat as they build dams that block flowing water. They make their homes in lodges, piles of branches and logs with a surprisingly intricate system of interior “rooms” for different purposes. Multiple generations often live together inside. Dams can be seen in the Nááts’įhch’oh Tué (Moose Ponds) area. Because beavers are mainly active between dusk and dawn, it can be hard to catch a glimpse of the animals themselves.
Porcupine – Ch’ųę́
Best known for their defensive quills, porcupines are slow-moving and agile rodents that can be found throughout the park. They are herbivorous, eating a range of leaves and other plant parts. In the wintertime, porcupine will also consume tree bark, leaving scars that are especially visible on conifers. But try to avoid startling them at close range – miniscule barbs on the tips of their quills make removing them quite difficult!
These quills are part of the namesake of Nááts’įhch’oh National Park Reserve. The name of Nááts’įhch’oh, the mountain, means “sharp like a porcupine quill”, referring to its distinctly pointed summit.
Bats – Dlı̨ąret’one
These tiny mammals are the flying aces of the night skies. They use echolocation to catch their insect meals and to keep track of their position relative to other bats and objects. One species of bats – little brown myotis – have so far been documented in the park.
Parks Canada has an exploratory monitoring plan for bats in Nááts’įhch’oh National Park Reserve. After capturing the calls of the little brown myotis with a specialised high-frequency recorder during the summer of 2017, field scientists have deployed the recorder on a year-round basis in hopes of learning more about when bats are present in the park. Little is known about seasonal habitat use among bat populations this far north.