Exploring the Wonder of Yukon Wild

Rob peered intently through his binoculars. He was doing his best to count exactly how many baby mountain goats were on the steep rock cliffs somewhere in the middle of the 700 acres covered by the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

“Look straight ahead.”

“Yes, I saw that one. There are two babies with her, just below the ridge.”

“No, straight ahead.”

“Do you mean at the top of the cliff?” He frowned into the binoculars, tilting them slowly skyward.

I wasn’t being clear enough.

“Sorry, no, I mean in front of your feet.”

Peeking out from behind a few small, thin trees behind the perimeter fence, not 20 feet away, were three goats, all of them lying down, calmly chewing on a few blades of grass. It seemed almost certain they were observing us just as we were observing them – with curiosity and, best of all, a complete lack of fear.

The Wildlife Preserve is a fantastic opportunity for visitors and Yukoners alike, a welcome change to the usual side-of-the-highway glimpse of “the south end of a critter headed north”.

In addition to mountain goats, which are in reality, mountain antelopes (according to the very handy and informative Trail Guide provided), there’s a good chance to see elk, wood bison thinhorn sheep, mule deer, moose, woodland caribou, Canadian lynx and – near the top of everyone’s list – the muskox.

Going back some 150,000 years, muskox once rubbed shoulders with the long-gone mammoth, the woolly rhino (now there’s a visual!) and the mastodon – yet you can visit several of them right here in your own backyard.

What could be cuter than a baby muskox?

Which reminds me … I forgot one, the smallest of all, the Arctic ground squirrel, better known as the gopher. Unless you’ve been seeing a lot of them in your garden, you’re bound to find them irresistible.

Bird watchers won’t be disappointed either. Bird houses are posted throughout the preserve and even to the most-casual observer the majority of them appear to be occupied.

In addition to mountain bluebirds and redwing blackbirds, there are swooping swallows and skinny-legged water birds amongst numerous others.

If wildflowers are your thing, there are plenty of those around this time of year, as well. Wild roses, arnica, Jacob’s ladder, beardtongue and anemone lined our path. I wonder if all those wild strawberries will actually fruit later this summer.

There are two ways to explore the Yukon Wildlife Preserve: independent walking tours or guided bus tours.

A minimum of two hours is recommended for walking tours. Two “loops” totals a distance of about five kilometres. It’s easygoing on wide, graded trails. The terrain includes everything from low-lying flatlands and rolling hills, to wetlands and steep rock cliffs. There are some beautiful mountain views.

Bring your binoculars and camera, and feel free to bring your lunch. There are benches, picnic tables and public washrooms. Don’t forget water and sunscreen, and wear a hat and comfortable shoes.

Guided interpretive tours are quicker if you are pressed for time, lasting about 75 minutes. You travel in style on the preserve’s own 24-passenger bus and the knowledgeable guide doubles as your driver.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve is a non-profit organization dedicated to Northern wildlife education, conservation and research. They are a member of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and help injured or orphaned animals recuperate with the hope of returning them to the wild. You can contact them if you encounter an animal emergency or if you would like to discuss a research proposal.

For further information phone 633-2922 or visit www.yukonwildlife.ca.

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