Wild Dogs and Cats
The smallest of the North American wild canids (around the size of a house cat) is the swift fox, which had been eradicated from the Canadian prairies by 1928. The species was reintroduced to the southeastern corner of Alberta in 1983, and in the time since, the population has tripled to around 600. Although thriving in this dry and desolate landscape, the species is still considered endangered. It has a gray body with a long black-tipped bushy tail, large ears, and smoky gray facial spots.
The more adaptable red fox is slightly larger than the swift fox and is common throughout Alberta.
The resilient coyotes have survived human attempts to eradicate them from the prairies; today their eerie concerts of yips and howls can be heard across much of Alberta. A mottled mix of brown and gray, with lighter-colored legs and belly, the coyote is a skillful and crafty hunter that preys mainly on rodents. Both foxes and coyotes have the remarkable ability to hear the movement of small mammals under the snow, allowing them to hunt these animals without actually seeing them.
Now inhabiting only the mountains and boreal forests, the wolf was once the target of a relentless campaign to exterminate the species. Wolves are larger than coyotes, resembling a large husky or German shepherd in size and stature. Their color ranges from snow white to brown or black. They are complex and intriguing animals that adhere to a hierarchical social order and are capable of expressing happiness, humor, and loneliness.
The elusive lynx is identifiable by its pointy black ear tufts and an oversized-tabby-cat appearance. The animal has broad, padded paws that distribute its weight, allowing it to “float” on the surface of snow. It is uncommon but widespread through remote, forested regions of the province. Bobcats live in the coulees and caves of badlands such as in Writing-On-Stone and Dinosaur Provincial Parks.
Solitary and secretive, cougars (also called mountain lions) can grow to a length of 1.5 meters (five feet) and can weigh 75 kilograms (165 pounds). These versatile hunters inhabit the mountain and foothill regions, numbering around 1,000 in the province.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition