Canada’s sprawling wild west, the Yukon Territory, has opportunities galore for wildlife photographers. This epic wilderness spans 475,000km bordering Alaska and stretching high into the Arctic Circle. But only 38,000 people live in this untamed territory – in fact, humans are outnumbered by moose 2 to 1 (well played, Bullwinkle). The city of Whitehorse is the territory’s capital and it’s home to the famous Yukon Wildlife Preserve – where you can see 11 Yukon native species, including Canadian lynx, Arctic fox, mountain goats and muskox in their natural habitat, along with some other intriguing Canadian creatures.
Lindsay Caskenette has worked at the Preserve for 4 years and in that time has got up close and personal with many of its 175 animals. Here, she reveals their fascinating lives behind the scenes.
Yukon animals have to be adaptable and hardy, because the climate is so extreme. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The Preserve is home to both boreal and arctic animals. These animals thrive in the Yukon, year-round. They each have their own adaptations and specialisation to their landscape. Muskox and arctic foxes are epic examples of animals adapted to their habitat. They reside in the high arctic (the circumpolar north) and their thick winter layered coats help keep them warm in the cold long winters.
The muskox have a specialised wool called qiviut that forms their undercoat and keeps them warm, while their outer layer of long guard hairs protect against the windy and exposed arctic coastal, and treeless conditions.
The arctic foxes are a small compact version of more southern canine species like coyotes or red foxes. They have small appendages and a more compact body, which are important to retaining heat in a predominantly cold environment. Now the landscape changes dramatically from season to season. Cold winters can be followed by warm summers filled with everlasting sun. These animals will shed those winter layers for a lighter coat. The arctic fox even changes their coat colour for better year-round camouflage opportunities!
Some of the animals in the preserve were rescued. Can you tell us about them?
Because of the history of the Preserve, many of the animals have been born and raised here and are multi-generation. However, some of the animals have come from the wild, where they were either injured or orphaned and were brought into the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Research Centre and, due to their particular circumstances, were deemed non-releasable back to the wild.
There’s JB the female moose, who is now almost 4 years old. She was brought into the rehab centre when she was just days old and orphaned when some domestic dogs chased her family and separated her from her mum. She was bottle-raised here at the Preserve, manly by our animal care staffer at the time, Justine Benjamin – hence, JB 😉
We have a mountain goat – named Geronimo, originally from Smithers, British Columbia (he also had a negative encounter with a domestic dog and was attacked). Subsequently he was brought to our facility and treated and bottle raised. But as a goat and a male – and one that doesn’t really like humans because of his encounters – he’s pretty ornery. Plus, he’s also just a very beautiful large male goat, good genetics – he must know it!
We have a caribou cow name Bou – she was a wild-born calf from a herd of woodland caribou in southwestern Yukon and into central Eastern Alaska known as the Chisana herd. The population of the herd declined severely in the 90s, so to boost their survival rate, biologists in the Yukon and Alaska established a captive rearing program to care for pregnant females and newborn calves. From 2002 to 2006, every autumn, biologists herded the pregnant females into a large enclosure where they were fed and protected from predators. The females delivered the calves and, once they were established, the cows and calves were released… and the herd became stronger. In 2005, an aging Chisana cow was unable to provide milk for her newborn calf. The calf would starve, so she was flown to the Wildlife Preserve where she was cared for, bottle raised and named Bou. Since then Bou has delivered calves of her own including one calf born June 2017 – they are both doing very well today! And it’s possible Bou could calve again this summer – time will tell!
What about the other animals in the park – do you have any favourites?
Mountain goats are my personal favourite! Mostly because they are so incredibly well adapted to mountain environments, (I love being in the mountains) steep rocky spires and thus are excellent climbers. I am a rock climber and avid hiker/scrambler, so I may be a bit envious of their free-solo climbing abilities and general ease and agility in places that humans aren’t meant for (but many of us are so drawn to)! While their hooves are specifically structured for climbing, I must buy climbing shoes to stem on a small rock flakes. Further, mountain goat kids are quite possibly one of the cutest creatures, tiny fluffy and bounding about from birth! Mountain goats are also just so full of attitude – behavior viewing is very interesting and you can learn some much about animals when watching them communicating subtle (or sometimes no so subtle) cues to one another.
What’s the best advice you can offer a first-time visitor to the Preserve?
I recommend the 5km walk – I love taking photos and going at my own pace exploring the different landscapes and animals. Bring some water, even a little lunch – there
are a few really beautiful spots to stop and picnic. You would spend at least 2 hours
but certainly could spend more if you have the time and wish to really make an adventure of it.
Lindsay also takes pretty awesome pics, which you can see here.
* The images I’ve included in this story are from my winter visit to the Preserve. But you really need to see it in summer, too! This excellent video is a great guide:
With thanks to: