Will innovative agreements save our wildlife?

OUT ON A LIMB: My favourite wildlife encounters have been at Glacier National Park in Montana and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming

Wildlife viewing has always been something I’ve treasured.

My favourite wildlife encounters have been at Glacier National Park in Montana and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. I find it kind of ironic that my best wildlife viewing has been in two lower 48 parks.

I wanted them to be in Canada but really, seeing wolves, grizzlies, moose and elk from mere metres away is pretty thrilling and the best opportunities I’ve had for that experience was in those two U.S. parks.

Our wildlife spotting in Banff and Jasper parks has been limited to elk in the towns. At least in our visit to Kootenay National Park in B.C. last summer, we did go on a ranger-led interpretive walk looking for wolf sign. We saw scat and depressed grass where the big canids had bedded down, as well as chewed up bones. It was great. We didn’t see the actual animals themselves and we weren’t expecting to, we were just looking for sign. Spotting wolves is a fairly rare occurrence.

The best wildlife viewing I’ve seen on Vancouver Island involved being out on the water and spotting orca and dolphins, although seeing a cougar walking along the beach was exciting.

Seeing the animals in the wild takes a lot of effort and often requires being up at very early hours of the morning, like when my son and I got up before dawn and went wolf spotting at Yellowstone about eight years ago. It was worth it though. We watched a family of wolves take a break on a hillside after a morning of hunting, I presume. They lollygagged for an hour or so, occasionally howling to the excitement of a band of watching humans on the other side of the river.

But you don’t always have to get out of the house. A trend I’m enjoying these days is the installation of trail cameras and “camera traps” where planted cameras are triggered by movement or fire off at regular intervals. A lot of both Canadian and American national parks are using them and the results are great. You often see a parade of animals passing a fixed camera.

A website I’ve discovered lately uses remote video cameras to monitor the African bush. Visit Africam.com to see the iconic animals of Africa from the comfort of your computer terminal. Of course, it’s not as good as being there but it’s still kind of fun. Lions and other “star attractions” have been seen but not by me, yet. I did see a family of elephants stop by a watering hole to drink and hippos splashing around in a pond.

With wildlife habitat under siege on this planet, it’s good to remind people that these animals are out there and this is the sort of thing we stand to lose if we don’t manage our wild spaces better. There are some innovative land-use agreements that have been negotiated in recent years at the national and provincial level that commit parties to sharing resources and land use values. Hopefully they’ll net the results we need.