During our drive through Banff Amanda and I didn’t spot much wildlife at all. There were a couple of elk milling by the side of the road one afternoon, and a handful of white-tailed deer frolicking in a field. There was the behind of one very scared black bear I spotted as it frantically barreled away from us. That was about it.
It would have been a pretty boring trip animal-wise, if it weren’t for the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops. Founded over 50 years ago, this non-profit conservation park aims to protect the provinces wildlife. They rehabilitate trapped or wounded animals and release them back into the wild, if possible. The animals that are unable to be released live their lives on-site. It’s a zoo, but it’s the good kind of zoo, as Amanda explains.
Our primary purpose for visiting the park was to meet Clover, a kermode, or blonde black bear. The First Nations call these bears Spirit Bears and believe they are sacred. While these white bears make up 10% of the black bear population, Clover is the only one in captivity.
Clover may look cute, but he has a dark criminal past. Orphaned at a young age, he was a serial trashcan burglar in the suburbs of Vancouver for several years. Eventually he was caught and sent to the Park. He is too domesticated to live in the wild, but too shy to be put on display. While the park raises funds for a new enclosure for him, he lives out of sight in his own private bear condo, which we were lucky enough to sneak a peek at. He is definitely a shy sweetheart.
After our visit with Clover, zookeeper Danielle invited us to accompany her on her feeding rounds. We spent some time watching the birds of prey train for their summer shows, before meeting up with her at the wolf enclosure.
The park used to have four female wolves but two died of old age recently. Because they are a conservation park, they never seek out or purchase new animals, which means their exhibits are constantly changing. Usually the wolves are fed remotely, but one of the wolf’s wasn’t feeling well so today Danielle hand-fed them.
Then it was on to the playful badger enclosure where Petal the badger rooted through the dirt to find her buried treats (her treat was an incredible appetizing dead baby chick, yum).
The last stop, and highlight of the day, was a quick visit to meet Dawson and Knute, two teenage grizzly bear siblings. Anyone who has watched the documentary Grizzly Man knows Grizzly bears are some of the scariest predators out there and not to be messed with. Although they weren’t fully grown, Dawson and Knute were well over 8 feet tall with long sharp nails teeth the size of pocket knives. They were behind a steel cage, but one had the distinct impression that cages meant little to a really angry Grizzly.
As I marveled at their sheer size and obvious potential power, Danielle casually tossed apples into their enclosure.
“Do you want to feed him a carrot?” she asked.
I doubtfully agreed. On the one hand, I really like having all my fingers, on the other, when would I get another chance to hand feed a grizzly bear? Visitors to the park aren’t usually allowed to do things like this, and a small crowd had gathered to watch us.
“Stand right here, hold out your hand. Let go of the carrot as soon as she grabs it with his teeth,” I thought I sensed a tough of nervousness in Danielle’s voice as well but I held myself steady and held out my hand. Dawson clamped down on the carrot and I let go immediately, a rush of adrenaline coursing through my body.
We watched the bears clown around with their water tank for a few minutes and then it was time to head to our next engagement. I was sad to leave- we hadn’t even seen the animal hospital yet! Still, I greatly admire the work the BC Wildlife Park is doing and their philosophy when it comes to the animals. It’s worth a visit for anyone heading through Kamloops, even if you don’t get to feed a bear.
For more information on the BC Wildlife Park, check out their website: http://www.bczoo.org/
This trip was sponsored by Coast Hotels and Zipcar. All opinions and risky bear maneuvers are my own.