Wildlife of Vancouver Island

The wildlife of Vancouver Island are as rich and diverse as our landscape. The Island is home to mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. Some of the animals that live on Vancouver Island are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. Others are rare, threatened or endangered, and need protection and conservation.

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The Island is a beautiful and diverse place to explore nature and wildlife, however, it is also home to some of the most powerful predators in North America, such as bears and cougars. These are the two most feared wildlife of Vancouver Island. 

Bears and cougars are usually shy and avoid humans, but they can also be dangerous if they feel threatened or hungry. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the risks and precautions when visiting Vancouver Island, especially in remote areas or during certain seasons.

Bears

Bears are omnivorous mammals that can weigh up to 300 kg and run up to 55 km/h. There are two species of bears on Vancouver Island: black bears and grizzly bears.

Black bears are more common and widespread, while grizzly bears are rare and mostly found in the north. Both species can vary in color from black to brown to blond.

Bears have a keen sense of smell, hearing and vision, and can be curious or aggressive depending on the situation.

Black Bears

One of the most iconic wildlife of Vancouver Island is the black bear. It is estimated that there are more than 120,000 black bears in British Columbia, and over 7,000 on Vancouver Island, making it one of the highest densities of black bears in North America.

Black bears are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. They feed on berries, nuts, grasses, roots, insects, fish, carrion and sometimes small mammals.

They can also scavenge human garbage and crops, which can cause conflicts with people.

Black bears are usually solitary, except for females with cubs. They have a keen sense of smell, hearing and vision, and can run up to 55 km/h, climb trees and swim well.

Black bears hibernate in dens during the winter, where they lower their body temperature, heart rate and metabolism. They can lose up to 30% of their body weight during hibernation.

The best way to avoid bear encounters, or encounters with any wildlife of Vancouver Island, is to prevent them from being attracted to human food or garbage. When visiting the Island, you should always store your food, toiletries and trash in bear-proof containers or hang them high on a tree away from your campsite. You should also cook and eat away from your sleeping area, and clean up any food scraps or spills.

You should never feed or approach bears, as this can make them lose their natural fear of humans and become habituated or food-conditioned. This can lead to conflicts and attacks that may result in injury or death for both humans and bears.

If You Encounter a Bear

If you encounter a bear, stay calm and assess the situation.

  • If the bear is unaware of your presence, you should quietly back away and leave the area. 
  • If the bear is aware of your presence but does not show any signs of aggression, you should speak softly and wave your arms to identify yourself as a human and not a prey. You should also back away slowly while keeping an eye on the bear. You should never run or turn your back on a bear, as this can trigger its chase instinct. 
  • If the bear shows signs of aggression, such as snorting, huffing, popping its jaws or charging, you should stand your ground and try to intimidate it by making yourself look bigger and louder. You should also use any deterrents you have, such as bear spray or noise makers. You should fight back only as a last resort if the bear attacks you.

Cougars

Cougars are the largest and most powerful cats in North America. They are also known as mountain lions or pumas. They have a tawny coat with black markings on their ears, tail and paws. They have long tails that help them balance and jump. They have powerful jaws and sharp claws that help them kill their prey.

Cougars are solitary and secretive animals that hunt mostly at dawn and dusk. They feed on deer, elk, moose, sheep, rabbits, rodents and sometimes livestock. They can kill animals up to seven times their own weight.

Vancouver Island is home to a subspecies of cougars called Felis concolor vancouverensis. It is estimated that there are about 600 to 800 cougars on Vancouver Island, making it one of the highest densities of cougars in the world.

Cougars on Vancouver Island prefer to live in forested areas with steep terrain and rocky outcrops. They have a large home range that can vary from 50 to 300 square kilometers depending on the availability of food and mates.

Cougars are territorial and mark their boundaries with urine, feces and scratches on trees. Cougars are mostly active at night, but can also be seen during the day.

Cougars face many threats and challenges on the Island, with the main one being human encroachment and development that reduce their habitat and prey base. Cougars may also come into conflict with humans when they prey on livestock or pets, or when they encounter hikers, bikers or joggers in their territory.

Cougars are protected by law in British Columbia, but they can be killed if they pose a threat to human safety or property.

The best way to coexist with cougars on the Island is to respect them and their habitat. When visiting Vancouver Island, you should always be aware of your surroundings and avoid areas where cougars may be present. You should also keep your pets leashed or indoors, and secure your livestock and poultry with fences or electric wires.

Never feed or approach cougars, as this can make them lose their natural fear of humans and become habituated or aggressive. Report any cougar sightings or incidents to the local authorities at 1-877-952-7277. Learn more about keeping wildlife wild and communities safe at WildSafeBC.

If You Encounter a Cougar

If you encounter a cougar, you should stay calm and follow these steps:

  • Do not run or turn your back on the cougar, as this can trigger its chase instinct.
  • Make yourself look big and loud by raising your arms, opening your jacket, waving a stick or throwing rocks.
  • Maintain eye contact with the cougar and speak firmly to it.
  • Slowly back away while facing the cougar until you reach a safe place.
  • If the cougar attacks you, fight back with anything you have, such as a knife, a stick or bear spray.

Cougars are magnificent and majestic animals that deserve our respect and admiration. They are an integral part of the ecosystem and biodiversity of Vancouver Island. By learning more about them and taking precautions to avoid conflicts, we can ensure their survival and coexistence for generations to come.

Other Wildlife of Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island Marmot

A rare and endangered animal that lives on Vancouver Island is the Vancouver Island marmot. It is one of the most critically endangered mammals in Canada, with only about 200 individuals left in the wild.

The Vancouver Island marmot is a large rodent that belongs to the squirrel family. It has a brown fur with white patches on its chest, nose and forehead. It has large eyes, ears and whiskers that help it sense its surroundings. It has strong teeth and claws that help it dig burrows and eat roots and plants.

The marmot lives in alpine meadows above 1000 m elevation on Vancouver Island. It is active during the summer months when it feeds on grasses, flowers and seeds. It hibernates in its burrow during the winter months when food is scarce.

The Vancouver Island marmot is social and vocal, living in colonies of 2 to 40 individuals. It communicates with each other using whistles, chirps and barks. It mates in late spring or early summer, and gives birth to 3 to 5 pups. 

Other Wildlife on Land

  • Deer
  • Racoons
  • Grey Wolves
  • Elk

Wildlife in the Water

Wildlife of Vancouver Island found in the water include:

  • Pacific salmon
  • Trout
  • Rockfish
  • Halibut
  • Crabs
  • Prawns
  • Mussels
  • Pacific Herring
  • Sea Otters
  • Sea Lions
  • Harbour Seals
  • Whales including Pacific Gray Whales, Orcas and Humpback
  • Dolphins

Wildlife In the Air

Soaring through the skies and thrilling visitors and locals alike is the mighty Bald Eagle. Even though it is a relatively common sight, it still feels magical and inspiring to witness this magnificent creature. Many people connect seeing bald eagles with spirits of those who have gone before us. 

Some of the other birds found on Vancouver Island include:

  • Sparrows
  • Blue Jays
  • Stellar Jays
  • Swallows
  • Woodpeckers
  • Owls
  • Hummingbirds
  • Hawks
  • Seagulls
  • Puffins
  • Kingfisher
  • Herons
  • Ducks
  • Loons
  • Bats

Tips to Ensure Wildlife are not Attracted to You, Your Food or Your Garbage

  • Securely store food, scented items and dishes by hanging them from a tree. Consider using food proof hanging systembear proof bags, bear proof containers or anti-scent bags.
  • Always use storage facilities/food caches where provided. 
  • Do not cook in your tent.
  • Do not store food in your tent.
  • Keep your campsite clean.
  • Do not burn or bury non-combustible garbage. Dispose of properly or pack it out. 
  • Be alert for bear scats, tracks or trails and do not hike or camp where these are common. Make lots of noise when hiking where bear signs are found.

Enjoy your visit to Vancouver Island and stay safe!

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