What: Up to six feet tall at the shoulder and weighing close to one tonne, the wood bison of the Northwest Territories are the biggest land animals in North America, dwarfing their lighter-coloured cousins on the Great Plains. They thrive on sedges, grasses and other vegetation.
Where: Wood bison abound in the southern Northwest Territories. Look for them in and around Wood Buffalo National Park, on Highway 3 between Fort Providence and Behchoko, and on the Liard Trail.
When: Bison are a very common sight year-round. During summer they are especially likely to gather on highway corridors, as the wind keeps the bugs at bay.
What: With a long snout, a prominent hump and a ruff around their muscular necks, grizzly bears are a familiar predator in the Northwest Territories. They can tip the scales at 450 pounds. They’re omnivores, eating everything from roots to muskoxen.
Where: Grizzly bears are common both in the mountains and the Barrenlands of the Northwest Territories. The likeliest place for a visitor to see one is along the Dempster Highway, where they patrol the open alpine country in search of food.
When: Late spring, summer, fall.
What: The tigers of the northern woods, lynx are eerie, stately and distinctive, with big paws, gangly legs, ear-tufts and a weight of up to 25 pounds. They prowl the boreal forests preying on snowshoe hares.
Where: Lynx range throughout the Northwest Territories, but are most commonly sighted in the Dehcho region (along the Liard and Mackenzie Highways) and Mackenzie Delta (along the Dempster Highway).
What: The great white lord of the Arctic, polar bears are right at home in the Northwest Territories. They are solitary wanderers, weighing 1,000 pounds or more and standing 10 feet tall. Seals are the staple of their diet.
Where: Polar bears are found all along the Arctic coast and throughout the High Arctic islands. There’s a small chance of seeing one on the Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk Highway.
When: Summer, early fall. The rest of the year, polar bears are where they’d rather be: way out on the sea-ice.
What: As tall as a man’s chest and weighing up to 700 pounds, these sheep-like ungulates are leftovers from the Ice Age. They sport an underlayer of extremely warm wool, covered by a shaggy mane of dark-brown hair. They thrive on a diet that includes willows, rushes and crowberries.
Where: The majority of the world’s muskoxen live on Banks Island, in the High Arctic. Very rarely, the beasts pop up in other regions of the Northwest Territories, including on the Sahtu Winter Road and near Yellowknife and Fort Smith.
What: Weighing up to 300 pounds and standing more than a metre tall at the shoulder, caribou have traditionally been the most abundant ungulates in the Northwest Territories, and the most coveted human food-source to boot. They have long legs and broad-hooves – ideal for floating over the snow – and primarily graze on lichen.
Where: Woodland caribou thrive in low densities throughout the forests of the Northwest Territories. You stand a better chance of seeing Barrenground caribou, which form great herds. Look for them along the Dempster Highway, Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, and the Tibbitt-to-Contwoyto Ice Road northeast of Yellowknife.
When: Year round on the Inuvik-to-Tuk Highway; autumn on the Dempster Highway; winter and spring on the Tibbitt-to-Contwoyto Road.
What: You might be inclined to believe these charming little balls of feather aren't very bright, but you'd be overlooking the fact that they are true masters of disguise. In summer they blend in seamlessly with tundra or underbrush, and in winter they can be mistaken for fluffy lumps of snow. Until you almost step on them, of course.
Where: All throughout the Northwest Territories, most often seen flying low in flocks across roads in winter.
When: Year-round, although they tend to be more elusive in summer, preferring to breed in the northern parts of the territory.