Regular visitors to the home of maple syrup and poutine might think that there’s nothing quite so deadly as a Canucks hockey player with a grudge in this country. But they’d be wrong. Read on for a guide to the most dangerous animals in Canada and you might just be surprised by the fear-factor of some of the beasts and critters that await in this corner of North America.
From the big to the small, our list checks off the creatures you’ll probably want to steer clear of during that once-in-a-lifetime jaunt to Canada. It’s got growling grizzly bears, hulking moose that are capable of crushing cars, and even snakes that can ruin a whole holiday with just a single bite.
The good news is that the stats show that Canada is pretty safe when it comes to wildlife. Only a few people die here from bear attacks each year, only a couple of deaths from snakebites have ever been recorded, and the same goes for attacks from wolves. In fact, you might just be surprised at the most dangerous creature in the country as a whole. We’ll start with that…
Moose (Alces alces)
Yep, the Moose tops our list of the most dangerous animals in Canada. Stats show that these colossal ungulates led to 236 deaths in the period between 2000 and 2014. That makes them responsible for something in the region of 16 fatalities per year!
“How?!” we hear you ask? Well, it’s almost all down to collisions with cars on roads. It goes something like this: Moose stray out of the forest as the sun goes down and use the winding country roads of BC and Alberta to move from A to B. A car swings around the bend and wallop, they go straight into a two-meter-high beast weighing half a ton. No wonder the outcome isn’t pretty.
But that’s not it. Moose are also known to attack more people than both the feared grizzly and Canada’s wild grey wolves combined. They’re also often found wandering towns and even small cities in the Rockies and Coast Ranges. That brings them into regular contact with humans and pets, making dangerous incidents all the more likely.
Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
No list of the most dangerous animals in Canada could possibly skip out on mentioning the mighty grizzly. These hulking beasts are surely the most feared predators in the whole country. They’re famed for their massive size, their protruding claws, and superhuman strength. And they most certainly can do damage to a human – you’ve all seen The Revenant, right?
Grizzlies are also known as North American brown bears, but the term encompasses the slightly larger subspecies of Kodiak bears and Kamchatka brown bears, too, which only reside in Alaska and eastern Russia respectively. Still, no matter which type of grizzly you talk about, size is the key feature – these bad boys can hit a whopping 389 kilos in weight and measure two meters across.
They’re not afraid to put that extra bulk to good use, either. Grizzly bears are among the most aggressive bear species of all. They’ll usually respond to threats by facing down the danger, regularly rising onto hind legs to increase their stature. That can often happen in backcountry campgrounds in Canada, where it’s estimated between two and five people each year die from bear attacks!
Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)
There aren’t all that many polar bears in Canada these days. In fact, there aren’t all that many polar bears left on the planet these days – the IUCN has long ranked these elegant but deadly beasts of the Artic as vulnerable, and the melting of the sea ice around the North Pole has lead to serious concerns surrounding their potential extinction due to habitat loss.
However, it’s still possible to encounter the fluffy white beasts in the land of hockey showdowns and maple syrup. Just head up to the far-flung communities of Churchill, Manitoba, or go further north to Yellowknife. Those places get inundated with groups of polar bears as they migrate inward from Hudson Bay between July and November.
Be sure to keep a good distance. Polar bears are the largest extant species of bear on the planet. They can weigh in at up to 700 kilos, measure three meters in length, and possess formidable canine chompers that are adapted to ripping up living flesh. What’s more, they are seriously territorial and won’t hesitate to attack to defend their young.
Northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus)
The Northern Pacific rattlesnake has colonized large swathes of the western edge of North America. It’s a very common snake that’s capable of adapting to a whole load of different habitat types. That’s why you’ll find it in the dusty deserts of the Mexican Baja Peninsula, amid the medium-altitude forests of the Oregon Coast Ranges, and up between the peaks of Canada’s British Columbia, which is the northernmost extent of its range.
Well camouflaged with blotches of brown and black that run the length of their meter-long bodies, Crotalus oreganus specimens are typically pit-viper-like. They fatten out in the middle of the body, get less bold in color as they age, and have a distinct diamond-shaped head with eyes deep set on either side.
You’d do well to learn all that if you are planning some hikes between the peaks of Garibaldi Park and the Cascade Recreation Area. Why? Pacific rattlers are highly venomous customers that inject lots of venom during most attacks. They’re weapon is a concoction of flesh-eating poison that inhibits the proper coagulation and clotting of blood. You’ll need to be treated with antivenin very quick if you do fall victim to one.
Eastern massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus)
Canada also happens to be the northernmost part of the range of the Eastern massasauga, a rattlesnake species that continues to strike fear into the hearts of any intrepid hikers that make it out onto the banks of Lake Huron and Lake Ontario. This critter only makes its home in small portions of the forested parks around the edges of those waters, most notably up and down the Bruce Peninsula and throughout Georgian Bay.
Bites occur almost annually in those areas, largely because of the frequent footfall of ramblers who hit the regions to get a break from the hubbub of big Toronto city. There have even been two deaths recorded on account of these snakes!
The one piece of good news is that the eastern massasauga is kinda’ easy to spot in the wild. Or, we should say, it’s a touch easier to spot than other rattlesnakes. It’s got a bold black coloring that’s mixed up with a mesh-like pattern of light whites and greys. On top of that, they are known to be highly reclusive snakes that prefer to avoid confrontation in most cases.
Grey wolf (Canis lupus)
Taking us from slithering snakes back to mammals, the grey wolf has to have a place on our list of the most dangerous animals in Canada. This pack-hunting canid has been a focus of fear since the very earliest days of the pioneers and the woodchoppers that came up Hudson Bay and through BC in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were often known to prey on human food stores in far-flung camps. Others became assimilated with the humans they met – hey, you’ve not read White Fang?
These days, Canada is seen as the last real stronghold of wild wolves in North America. It’s estimated that something in the region of 60,000 individuals still make their home in the mountains and on the plains of the great nation. Interestingly, Canadian law does protect the right of First Nations people to hunt wolves, a custom that’s been going for millennia.
Attacks from wolf packs are extremely rare in the modern age. If they do happen, these prowling carnivores will come as a group, picking off weaker prey first. Assaults often begin with small nips at the backs of the legs and then a single deadly bite at the jugular. Don’t worry too much, though – there’s been just one fatal attack in Canada in the last 18 years.
Prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)
The prairie rattlesnake resides all over North America. Listed as a snake of least concern by the IUCN, it’s relatively commonplace throughout its main range. Talking of the range, it’s pretty hefty, running from the southern parts of the Canadian Great Plains in Saskatchewan and Alberta all the way to the Mojave Desert on the cusp of Mexico in the southern USA.
Capable of growing to just over 100cm from snout to rattle, these guys are often much more lightly colored than other pit vipers found on the continent. They come in hues of sandy brown, beige, and light grey, all of which helps them blend in with the dustbowls and the deserts where they make their homes.
When it comes to the venom, it hardly makes for good reading. Herpetologists report that these snakes possess a strong mix of poisons that can both kill living tissue and lead to adverse neurological effects. Plus, they are known to be very territorial and will strike after only quick warning rattles of the tail.
The most dangerous animals in Canada – our conclusion
This guide highlights just seven of the most dangerous animals in Canada. It’s by no means an exhaustive list – we haven’t even touched on the killer whales and deadly shark species that patrol Canadian coasts, for example!
What’s odd is that the moose reigns as the creature travelers should probably be most concerned about, especially if there’s any road trips in the works (moose-car collisions are the highest risk of death from animals in these parts!).
On top of that, you should also be wary of the venomous rattlesnakes that exist in British Columbia, Ontario, and the Great Plains, not to mention – of course – the legendary grizzly bears of the Canadian mountains.