August 22, 2014

Denali's Big 5

Know that saying, "Everything's bigger in Texas?" Well, what about when you have a state that is twice the size of Texas? 

Alaska is known for many things - towering mountain ranges, stunning landscapes, vast wilderness, world-class fishing, and also its BIG wildlife. 

Denali National Park was the first national park created to protect wildlife. Scientists have documented 39 species of mammals in the park, ranging in size from the 1.5 gram tiny shrew to the 1200 plus pound moose. A goal for the thousands of visitors that flock to the park is to witness this wildlife in their natural environment, specifically the BIG 5: moose, caribou, Dall sheep, grey wolves and grizzly bear. 

Here are some of my favourite personal photos of Denali's Big 5, including some fun facts...

Moose are the largest members of the deer family, and are referred to as "elk" in Europe. Male moose have antlers, which are made of bone and shed every year during "rut", or breeding season, in the fall. 

denali's big 5 moose

Like moose, caribou also have antlers. However, both male and female caribou have antlers. Males shed their antlers first in the fall, followed by pregnant females a few months later. This means that all of Santa's reindeer were female!

denali's big 5 caribou

Dall sheep
Unlike members of the deer family, Dall sheep have horns, not antlers. Horns are made of keratin, similar to our finger nails, and continuously grow throughout the life of the animal. You can actually tell a Dall sheep's age by the ring pattern on their horns. Both male and female Dall sheep have horns, but the males (rams) are large and spiralling, whereas the females' (ewes) are much smaller.

denali's big 5
Photo by John Gomes.

Grey wolf
Wolves are social animals and usually live in packs. The average pack size is six or seven animals, and pack members often includes a breeding pair (alpha male and female), some yearlings and other adults. Most adult male wolves weigh 85 to 115 lbs, and females tend to be about 10 to 15 lbs lighter.

denali's big 5

Grizzly bear
Did you know that a grizzly bear and a brown bear are the same species of bear? Their name just depends on where they are found. Grizzlies are found more inland and tend to be smaller because their diet consists of berries and other vegetation, whereas brown bears are coastal and tend to be larger because their diet is packed with protein from the fish they consume.

denali's big 5 grizzly bear

Please note, while all of the photographs above are my own, only the caribou and brown bear photos were taken in Denali National Park.

What wildlife sightings do you remember? I'd love to hear!



  1. I love all these pictures! Baby moose are my favorites. Also, love how you tied in that all of Santa's reindeer were female- I'll be telling that to all of my young cousins come Christmastime!

  2. These are all so cool, I love your pictures!!!! My favorite would have to be the moose. Our friends that live in Anchorage always facetime us when they have moose in their backyard and it so awesome! Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  3. This is amazing! Thank you so much for explaining this Big Northern 5! I'm a bad Canadian that I always thought Moose and caribou were the same ...

  4. These guys are so cool! and the park is breathtaking!

  5. I love seeing animals in the wild! I finally saw my first moose calf the other day running behind his mama. But the ones I'll never forget are my first bear sightings! My first grizzly was in Denali and my first black bear was by the Russian River - not even 20 yards from me! I love love love Alaska's wildlife!


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