A wild pig covered in black, wiry hair shuffled and snorted through the snow on the side of the road, snout crusted in ice. The car stopped and it waddled across the road, looking up at us. It knew we had carrots; and so did the silhouettes of larger animals were moving in the treeline – a herd of deer, eager for a treat.
Parc Omega – a safari park in the province of Quebec
Welcome to Parc Omega, a wildlife reserve an hour and a half’s drive out of Montreal, near the small town of Montebello. Like a safari for Canadian wildlife, Parc Omega allows you to use your own wheels, and drive around spotting wildlife within the park.
Our choice of vehicle? A Chevrolet Grand Caravan, an awkward, big, soccer-mum people-mover.
It was unseasonably cold on this April day, with a relentless snowstorm that covered the world in a ceaseless blanket of snow. It promised to be an interesting day of wildlife spotting.
Hungry reindeer, seeking carrots
Not far from the park entrance, a male reindeer was standing in the centre of the road, looking forlorn and majestic under the falling snowflakes. It stood side on, and turned it’s rack of great antlers towards us as we approached, and leisurely strode towards the car.
The rest of the herd had already reached us by then, gliding out from the trees and the heavy snowfall to greet us. They had by now figured out that cars equals carrots. We had a whole bag full, which we purchased from reception.
They pushed their huge lumpy faces through the open windows. Smears of saliva, dirt and icy wet hair mashed against the glass and window frames in sticky globs.
The reindeer were huge things, and hungry, but had a gentle, patient attitude as we fed them from our hands. The reindeer would even take a carrot which we placed in our teeth!
Eager for a feed, more caribou pushed their big buckteeth and bulging goat-like eyes through the windows, jostling for food, until the car was swamped. When we began to move the car to continue the journey, they walked back to the trees.
Bison, and other elusive creatures
The bison were kept in their own outdoor enclosure, although in the blizzard, they appeared as little more than dark shapes huddled in the snow, their silhouettes still unmistakable.
We also saw red deer and wapiti (a deer species with soft, velvety antlers), and a handful of white wolves. Alpine ibex were around, but we didn’t spot any. Elsewhere in the park we knew bears were living. They were probably hibernating, so bear-watching is best left for summer.
The parc is divided into different landscape zones, each with different animals available to see. The meadow, forest, mountain and lake zones are all free for exploration.
But we ran into difficulty in the heavy snow before we could reach all of them.
Maybe a 4×4 would have been a good idea
We needed rescuing. With our fully loaded car, we became stuck on a slippery hill. The slick tyres were spinning and gouging muddy trenches in the slippery snow.
Even backing up and charging up the hill at full speed wouldn’t take our Grand Caravan to the top; the wheels were slipping too much. A ranger 4WD soon arrived, attached a rope, and towed us up the hill. During summer months, we probably would have been fine.
Just left from the main gate, we parked the car and followed a walking path that led to a wooden boardwalk to visit. With the snow still falling to almost blizzard levels, we had the park almost to ourselves.
On one side of the zig-zag of the raised boardwalk was a large fenced off pen housing a pack of beautiful grey wolves, who, despite the cold, still wrestled and played and dug in the snow, and stood sentry atop rock formations. We stopped to look at them and they looked back at us. They seemed used to human presence, and paid us little mind.
Summer vs. winter
Visiting in winter is a very unique experience indeed, and watching the animals caked in snow and ice, going about their business was a unique way to see the wildlife.
Summer appears to offer more in the way of activities, however; picnic areas, hiking trails, and even in-park accomodation in tipis, tents, and cabins can make a visit to Parc Omega an overnight experience.
Parc Omega, a very unique Canadian wildlife experience!