The Yukon Wildlife Preserve offers guided tours around the over 700 acres in a beautiful natural setting.
It didn’t take long for our group to view the first of 10 species of Canadian mammals: the elk area is located near the entrance (about 400 elk currently exist in the Yukon). As well, a ground squirrel greeted us, running off into the snow when we got too close.
With a decent zoom lens, it’s easy to capture the animals – that is, if they’re up for it. Some were simply happy to hide off in their enclosure (the Lynx and Arctic Fox were the guilty parties here), while others made sure to get their moment in the lens.
Peter, our tour guide, stopped the van to show us a juvenile Bald eagle, next to the preserve’s rehabilitation centre, a $2 million facility with high-tech equipment that helps bring sick or wounded animals back to life.
From flat lands to rock cliffs, the animals live amongst the property and are regularly fed, looked after, and kept as disease-free as possible (periods of quarantine aren’t the norm, but do happen).
Fallen antlers are left on the ground to help educate the public about how the animals use their antlers. They also form a good basis for comparing sizes, to help distinguish one animal from another. We learned that only Yukon First Nations or residents with a permit are allowed to hunt caribou. Bison are a protected species, and hunting is only permitted by lottery, depending on the health of the herd. With a good-size herd, only one animal may be hunted per season.
The moose was a bit more reclusive. Each year, the male drops his antlers, making them a bit shy for the count. Once September comes around, the antlers are nearly back to regular size and the moose will become more active. An interesting fact: they can dive to a depth of five metres and adapt their diet to aquatic species if necessary.
A sunny day brought us in contact with Woodland Caribou, Wood Bison, Musk-Ox, Bighorn Sheep, Thinhorn Sheep, Mule Deer and Mountain Goats.
The tour can be taken in either a van or self-guided on foot, bicycle, or cross-country skis. This is a great way to reconnect with nature.
The animals don’t seem too bothered; most were sunbathing in the snow or eating.
After our mammal-viewing encounter, we were taken to the nearby Takhini Hot Springs, where a relaxing dip into the hot, clear mineral water coupled with the fresh mountain air works wonders. The hottest of the two pools is 43C. A gate in the water opens to move to the cooler pool. If you’re brave, head up the stairs and grab a seat in the snow.
This recreational-use facility includes a café and ice-climbing structure next door during the winter. Takhini is open year-round, and between mid-May and mid-September stays open seven days a week.
The minerals in the pools contain calcium, magnesium, sodium, silica, potassium and iron. Everything from joint pain to arthritis can be healed through hot spring sessions. Both the reserve and hot springs are located about 30 km from Whitehorse.
A combined afternoon tour including both the Wildlife Preserve and Takhini Hot Springs is offered by Northern Tales Travel Services and costs $95 per person. My tour package was provided by Tourism Yukon.