Animal Encounters in Kamloops

You might not expect to hand-feed grizzlies on your visit to Kamloops, but that's just part of the fun you'll encounter at BC's Wildlife Park

Credit: John Biehler

Feeding Shardik the grizzly bear at the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops, BC

Certain excursions — usually involving food and wine — are expected in the Okanagan. Feeding wild animals in Kamloops? Not one of them, but certainly an adventure worth experiencing

I recently spent three days touring the Okanagan as a guest of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association. The agenda was mostly packed with eating and drinking – as one does while they’re in BC’s wine country – but an unexpected activity was disguised amongst the gastronomy.

On a cloudy afternoon in Kamloops, we arrived at the BC Wildlife Park for a behind-the-scenes tour, which included several animal-feeding opportunities.

I had envisioned goats grabbing pellets from my gloved hand, their scratchy little beards grazing my arm as I extended it over a picket fence. In reality, I hand-fed a grizzly bear, two moose, two camels and a bull elk.

Goats? That’s child’s play.

Grizzly Bears in Kamloops Like Grapes?

Shardik was coy for a grizzly bear, sitting in his hut, pawing hesitantly at loose pieces of bedding. It wasn’t until the park’s animal trainer arrived by truck that Shardik awoke from his daze. The corners of his mouth spread slowly and he ambled out of his sleeping quarters to where we stood at the edge of the iron fence. Looking at his plush brown coat and dainty ears, it was easy to forget that Shardik was a grizzly.

His cartoonish demeanor made me regard him as more friendly than threatening, which is why I had no hesitation when it came to feeding him grapes from the vine, one by one with my bare hands.

Shardik reclined in a seated position, back legs stretched out in front of himself, and poked his snout through the fence. Every grape snatched from my fingers was done gently and with a deft touch — it may have been my first time, but it certaintly wasn’t his. 

We threw some apricots into the mix, and after spitting out the pits Shardik leaned toward the fence pursing his lips, awaiting his next treat. He gently accepted every piece of food we offered, always gesturing for more after a few sloppy chomps.

The Gangly Guys at BC’s Wildlife Park

Our second stop was at the two moose, who both enjoyed bananas tremendously. As I began to peel a banana for my four-legged friend, I noticed the moose beside me inhaling an entire banana – stem, peel and all ­­– from the hands of the trainer.

This trait of practically swallowing food whole was shared by the camels. Shortly after filling up the moose with greens and bananas, we visited a similar-looking pasture where the camels lived.

Like the moose, the camels received their bounty enthusiastically. I couldn’t contain my laughter as the trainer thrust full-sized heads of romaine lettuce into the eager, quivering mouths of the camels. If you’ve ever seen that slight upturned look at the corner of a dog’s mouth when he smiles, it was amplified times 10 on these camels.

The Dangers of a Big Rack

Of all the animals, feeding the bull elk was the most exhilarating, as there was a real element of danger: his huge rack of antlers. With one quick tilt of his head, the bull elk could inflict serious bodily harm. I’ll admit to feeding this intimidating creature from a further-stretched arm than my previous three animal encounters.

Although a bit skittish at first, the bull elk was happy to receive the food clenched nervously in the tips of my fingers. He worked more with his teeth and less with his lips like the other animals.

Halfway through his hand-delivered meal, he paused to buck at a deer getting a little too close to his feast. Feeding this guy was also the most rewarding, because at the end, he wore an even bigger smile than the lettuce-devouring camels.

Check out more photos of the charming residents at the BC Wildlife Park

Kristen Hilderman is a born-and-raised BC girl, a Master of Publishing candidate at SFU and the digital editorial assistant for BCBusiness Online. She blogs at about her insatiable appetite for books, live music, food and wine. Twitter