Vancouver Island has some incredible hiking opportunities. From short strolls to epic multi-day adventures, you can find trails of all lengths. While the scenery is almost always breathtaking, there are a few hidden dangers that may be lurking in those woods.
This article shares the potential wildlife encounters you may experience while hiking around Vancouver Island. It’s not meant to deter you from venturing outside, but rather make you become more aware of your surroundings. When the main attraction of an area is its wilderness, it’s always best to be prepared for anything.
Below you’ll find some safety guidelines and tips on ways to hopefully prevent incidents from even happening, as well as ways to deal with potential dangers.
When dealing with complex situations out in the wild, there are no hard and fast rules, and unfortunately, anything can happen. So it’s important to note that the following information is basic advice, and meant to be used as such.
It’s always best to talk to your local wildlife expert for more details.
What you might See!
Vancouver Island is black bear territory, but the northern island is also home to Grizzlies. In fact, our great bear population has made many tour companies a pretty penny. There are plenty of opportunities to hook up with a reputable guide who knows the best spot to view bears.
So while seeing a bear for some can be a wonderfully memorable experience, there are also times when you might happen to come across one when you haven’t paid to do so!
While out hiking in our forested areas, it’s not uncommon to see black bears. My little family has even come across a few while walking around our own neighbourhood.
Try to avoid contact
Bear are naturally afraid of humans, so attacks are extremely rare. But they can happen! The best prevention is to try to avoid all contact.
- Be alert to your surroundings and look for signs of recent bear activity in the area. These can include droppings, tracks, overturned rocks (large) and evidence of digging.
- Before you start your hike, look for posted signs at the trailhead about any recent bear activity.
- Travel in groups.
- Make your presence known:
- Talk loudly
- Sing, etc.
- Play music on your phone – but not with the headphones plugged in!
- Wear a bear bell. Or, if you are hiking with a dog, place one on their collar.
- It’s a well-known fact that odours attract bears. If you are bringing snacks on your hike, try to eliminate odours by keeping strong smelling food in tightly sealed containers.
- All bears can climb trees! (although black bears are better tree-climbers than grizzly bears).
- Bears are fast! In fact, bears can run 66% faster than the world’s best sprinters.
- Bears have an excellent sense of both smell and hearing.
- They are extremely strong. There have been known cases of cars being torn apart by a bear looking for food.
- Bears typically defend their personal space if they feel you are intruding. The extent of this space can vary with each bear and each situation.
- Grizzly bears, especially, can be aggressive when defending their food.
- Female bears WILL defend their cubs. A momma bear’s natural defence is to chase her cubs up a tree and defend them from the base.
- Some have said that unleashed dogs can provoke bears.
What to do if you encounter a Bear
Unfortunately, when dealing with complex situations, such as a bear encounter, there are no hard and fast rules.
But the most important things to remember are:
- Remain calm and respect the bear!
- Give the bear lots of room.
- Never approach a bear, especially bear cubs (the momma bear will most likely be near).
- Never attempt to feed a bear.
- Do not run.
- Don’t climb a tree.
- Try to avoid screaming and/or making direct eye contact with the bear.
- Do not turn your back on the bear.
Instead, slowly back away from the bear and talk to it in a monotone voice. Make sure the bear has a clear escape route, and watch it until it leaves the area.
The Cougar, otherwise known as Mountain Lion or Puma, is Canada’s largest cat. Of the estimated 4000 Cougars living in Canada, approximately 600 – 800 live on Vancouver Island.
Even though that may seem like a lot, most of us live our lives here without ever having any sort of confrontation or even a glimpse of one.
However, and unfortunately, there have been a few documented cases of both fatal and non-fatal cougar attacks on Vancouver Island over the years.
So while it’s rare to see a cougar, it’s always best to expect the unexpected, especially when wandering in the woods.
Cougars tend to remain on the eastern side of the island, where there is a higher density of black-tailed deer. The most frequent sightings happen in the less inhabited northern half of the Island. (Campbell River north)
To minimize the chance of an encounter, follow the same guidelines for bears, as mentioned above.
- Travel in groups and make noise.
- Keep children close at hand
- Watch for cougar signs and tracks
- Cougars have four toes with three distinct lobes at the base of the pad.
- Cougars cover unconsumed portions of their kills with dirt and leaf litter. If you happen to come across something like this, leave the area immediately.
- Mamma cougars typically keep their kittens well-hidden. However, if you do stumble upon cougar kittens, do not approach and leave the area immediately. Female cougars will defend her young!
Cougars are at the top of the food chain, and fierce predators. Although they will normally avoid confrontation with humans, unfortunately, their actions are often unpredictable. There is also little understanding about what might trigger an attack.
- Children and pets are most likely to be the victim of a cougar attack.
- The cougar’s primary prey is deer.
- Cougars are most active at dusk and dawn. (However, they have been known to roam and hunt at any time of the day or night, and in all seasons.)
- During late spring and summer, young cougars (one – two years old) become independent of their mothers. While searching for unoccupied territory to find a home range, these young cougars often roam widely.
- Cougars feeding on a kill may be dangerous.
If you encounter a cougar
If you happen upon a cougar while out hiking:
- Do not approach!
- Face the cougar and remain tall
- Don’t crouch down or try to hide!
- Do everything you can to enlarge your image. Even raising your arms above your head helps.
- Grab a stick or several branches and wave them about (again, avoid crouching down to gather them).
- Pick up small children, but avoid bending down while doing so.
- Stay calm, and talk to the cougar in a loud, deep and confident voice.
- Do not run! Sudden movement or flight may trigger an attack.
- Always give a cougar a wide avenue of escape.
If the cougar becomes aggressive
- Try to intimidate the cougar as much as possible. Let it know that you are not easy prey!
- Throw sticks and rocks at it.
- Speak loudly and firmly.
- Fight back! Many people have survived cougar attacks by fighting back.
Although said to be one of the shyest and most elusive creatures on Vancouver Island, wolves are coming out of hiding and making headlines lately.
In March (2017) there were two separate wolf attacks on dogs who were walking with their owner on a West Coast beach. Due to the attacks, Parks Canada initiated a one-week dog ban for all areas of Long Beach. They also temporarily closed a section of Wickaninnish Beach, due to several visitors having wolf encounters.
To try to avoid contact with a wolf, Parks Canada recommends:
- Walking in a group
- Making plenty of noise
- Keeping dogs on a leash
- Keeping children close by
The wolves on Vancouver Island are very similar in size and appearance to a grey wolf. They weigh between 20 – 60 kg (with the females being the smallest). In both of the recent attacks, the wolf was mistaken for a large dog.
Although the majority of the wolves here are found in the uninhabited northern coastal portions of the island, they do frequent the west coast, as is evident in the recent encounters, and have been spotted as far south as Port Renfrew.
What to do if you encounter a wolf
- Do not run!
- Pick up small children and dogs
- Stand up tall and look large
- Back away slowly, while maintaining eye contact
If the wolf continues to approach
- Throws sticks or rocks
- Use pepper spray or an air horn (if you have those items on hand)
- Fight back!
We have many non-threatening wildlife too. On any given walk or hike you are bound to see a variety of raptors, other small birds, and waterfowl. There is also an overabundance of deer and wild rabbits on Vancouver Island too.
Here’s a small selection of the various types of non-threatening wildlife you may encounter here.
Annoying and Potentially Dangerous Insects
While the warmer Spring air brings out more people to the forested areas of Vancouver Island, it also, unfortunately, is prime time for nasty little bloodsuckers too! Ticks are found here throughout the year, however, they are particularly bad during spring.
The Western black-legged tick is the main species of ticks found on Vancouver Island. During the nymph stage, ticks need blood meals to complete development (nymph to adult), and as adults, the blood meal provides a protein source for producing eggs. This is why ticks attach themselves to warm-blooded species (such as deer, dogs, cats, humans, etc.).
Unfortunately, these Western black-legged ticks are the same ones responsible for carrying the microorganism that causes Lyme Disease in North America.
Although there is generally a low risk of getting Lyme’s Disease from a tick, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
- Ticks are typically black or red and have eight legs. They are sometimes mistaken for a tiny spider.
- They are very small – about the same size as a sesame seed when not engorged with blood.
- When filled with blood their body turns either grey or brown.
- They don’t drop from trees, fly or jump, but hang out on low-lying branches, tall grasses, bushes, shrubs and/or brush.
- A bite from a tick can be quite painful and may produce a large ulcer or rash-like appearance (if this is the case, see your doctor).
- On Vancouver Island, ticks are most prevalent from March – June.
- Ticks can take up to 24 hours before they attach, so a big part of prevention is to remove them from your clothes and body before they bite.
After walking in the woods, search your entire body, paying special attention to warm areas (behind knees, armpits, groin, etc.). Make sure you search young children and pets too. If you find a tick remove it immediately! The sooner you remove the tick, the less likely you are of contracting a disease.
How to Remove a Tick
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to remove or a special tick remover
- Grab hold of the tick by its head (not the body!), which will be the part of the tick closest to your skin.
- Pull the tick straight out in a firm, slow and steady manner. Avoid twisting. And don’t squeeze!!
- Clean the wound with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
- Once the tick is removed, save it! This way if you develop a rash after being bitten, you can send it in to be analysed for disease. Keep it in a sealable container or plastic bag (Ziplock) with a moist cotton ball to keep it from drying out. Label the container or bag with the date and where the tick came from (the location you were walking).
How to Avoid Ticks
- Stay on groomed trails and avoid walking through brush.
- Wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and tuck your pants into your socks.
- Wearing light coloured clothing makes it easier to see if a tick has landed on you.
- Spray exposed areas with tick repellent (DEET – (not to be used on children)) or a more natural bug repellent (see below).
- Once you are home, have a shower and wash the clothes that you were wearing while walking.
Natural Tick and Bug Remedies
Obviously for legal reasons I can’t tell you that the following remedy is fool-proof. But I can tell you that friends of mine, who are out hiking local forested areas on a daily basis, use the following recipe and swear by it.
In a large stainless steel spray bottle add 10 – 15 drops each of the following essential oils:
- 1 TBSP vodka or rubbing alcohol
- 1/2 cup of witch hazel
- 1/2 cup distilled water
Disclaimer: I suggest these essential oil remedies for those looking for a more natural alternative to the stronger insect repellents on the market. They are not meant to be definitive protection against illness or disease. It is always best to consult your health care professional for advice.
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of essential oils, click on the link and sign up for a free monthly newsletter.
So tell me, have you ever had an encounter with any of the above-mentioned predators, or dealt with the annoyance of ticks?
Let us know how you handled the situation in the comment section below.
Or, if you think I’m missing some key information, don’t hesitate to let me know!
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Wildlife Encounter Information
- Province of BC
- VI – Wilds – Vancouver Island Wilderness and Historical Conservation
- Public Health Agency of Canada
- HealthLink BC