Wildlife park of­fers close look at elk, moose

Times Colonist - - Travel - NI­COLE THOMP­SON

On a cool evening, not long be­fore the sun set, a trac­tor wound along a dirt path in north­ern On­tario, pulling be­hind it a trailer hold­ing a few tourists, bun­dles of leaves and a huge sack of feed.

Sev­eral elk fol­lowed along, jog­ging be­side the ve­hi­cle, hop­ing to gob­ble up hand­fuls of food. Ahead, a young moose named Felix lay in wait.

The in­ter­ac­tions with the an­i­mals were tak­ing place at Cedar Mead­ows, a re­sort and wilder­ness park nes­tled on the west bank of the Mattagami River in Tim­mins, Ont. The fa­cil­ity of­fers tours of the park to the pub­lic year-round.

In win­ter­time, the 175 acres be­come a pic­turesque won­der­land, coated in a thick layer of white snow.

The tours of­fer lo­cals and tourists alike a chance to get up close and per­sonal with the park’s res­i­dents: a moose, a bi­son, 15 fal­low deer and 42 elk. An­other moose and six other bi­son are se­questered out of pub­lic view.

“It’s an op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­act with them and see them, and still have that el­e­ment of be­ing wild,” said Richard Lafleur, who owns the fa­cil­ity.

Opened in 1985 as an eques­trian cen­tre, the busi­ness was con­verted into a 29-room ho­tel nearly two decades ago.

It’s since been ex­panded to 52 rooms.

Lafleur said it felt nat­u­ral for him to keep an­i­mals on the prop­erty, hav­ing grown up on a farm.

But it also seemed like a good busi­ness op­por­tu­nity, he said, not­ing that vis­i­tors were drawn to the wildlife that lived in the area even be­fore he changed the fo­cus of the busi­ness.

“When­ever we’d see some kind of wildlife — a fox or what­ever — peo­ple would go hys­ter­i­cal,” he said, ex­plain­ing that Cedar Mead­ows bought an­i­mals from other parks and zoos that were go­ing out of busi­ness.

Jac­inte Jean, a Cana­dian ex­pat liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia and trav­el­ling through north­ern On­tario, came to the park with her hus­band in hopes of in­tro­duc­ing him to his very first moose — a mis­sion they ac­com­plished.

“I’m a lit­tle bit sur­prised that the an­i­mals seem so friendly, and they’re all to­gether,” she said, not­ing that the moose’s timid de­meanour in par­tic­u­lar was un­ex­pected.

She and her hus­band leaned from the wooden trailer to cau­tiously hand the moose large bun­dles of leaves.

They pet his antlers, which were then cov­ered in a fine, downy coat that he’d shed come mat­ing sea­son.

Felix the moose was born on the prop­erty four years ago, Lafleur said.

The an­i­mal’s fa­ther died be­fore he was born, and his mother was struck by light­ning a cou­ple of years later.

Though the moose seemed tame, Lafleur said it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that Felix is still a wild an­i­mal.

“A lot of peo­ple think they’re do­mes­ti­cated, but they aren’t,” he said, adding that there are cer­tain best-prac­tices peo­ple should ad­here to while in the park.

For in­stance, he said, the an­i­mals can get spooked if peo­ple they aren’t fa­mil­iar with dis­em­bark the trac­tor in the mid­dle of the tour.

Also, they might see it as a sign of ag­gres­sion if peo­ple look them in the eyes, he said, not­ing staff at the wilder­ness park are able to give vis­i­tors a run­down of dos and don’ts.

Ul­ti­mately, Lafleur said, the ex­cur­sion in the Cedar Mead­ows park tends to of­fer some­thing out of the or­di­nary to most vis­i­tors.

“It’s a re­ally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for peo­ple,” he said.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Cana­dian Press re­porter Ni­cole Thomp­son feeds a moose from a tour ve­hi­cle at the wilder­ness park at Cedar Mead­ows Re­sort and Spa in Tim­mins, Ont.

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