Sunday June 04, 2017

Come face down our dangerous urban wildlife! A new tourism strategy for Canada

A male California sea lion grabbed a young girl by her dress and pulled her into the water off Steveston's docks on Saturday, May 20. Marine mammal experts say the animal most likely mistook the dress for food.

A male California sea lion grabbed a young girl by her dress and pulled her into the water off Steveston's docks on Saturday, May 20. Marine mammal experts say the animal most likely mistook the dress for food. (Michael Fujiwara/CBC)

Listen 3:55

After visitors flocked to the same harbour where a sea lion had pulled a child into the water, Vancouver writer Shannon Rupp presents her tongue-in-cheek tourism strategy: come to our cities for the thrill of risky wildlife encounters! 


Our travel industry has been marketing Canada all wrong. 

They emphasize our safe cities. 
Our pretty scenery.  
Our pleasant festivals. 

But clearly, what tourists long to see is our deadly urban wildlife in action. 

The public loves nothing more than a good scare in a safe environment. 
That's the secret behind movies like Jaws. 
Or theme parks with roller coasters. 
Or circuses with exotic animals. 

steveston sea lion

The wharf was teeming with tourists after the incident, all trying to get a look at the sea lion. (Christer Waara/CBC)

It's the thrill of a threat that pulls in the punters. 
That slim possibility a ride might have an accident. Or a tiger might escape his cage. 

Perhaps in Canada - the equivalent is our West Coast cities.
Given all the deadly urban wildlife here, we're kind of like a theme park in which the safety measures sometimes fail. 

So why isn't our tourism industry selling this? 
It's not easy to distinguish our cities on the world travel stage. We have to compete with North America's big, glamorous destinations. Like New York. And Chicago.. 

But encounters with the likes of a grabby sea lion right in the city give our towns an allure. 

Having grown up on the West Coast I tend to take the urban wildlife for granted. 
But if you think about it, we have a remarkable number of exciting predators in our backyards. 

sea lion steveston

The sea lion seemed oblivious to the frenzied crowd who'd gathered in the days following. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Literally. 

Bears maul home gardeners.
Coyotes and cougars snatch toddlers.  
And let's not forget the crows.  

In other cities, when they talk about muggers they mean criminals. In Vancouver's West End, we mean the crows. 
They like to nest in the trees lining our sidewalks. 
And then dive-bomb pedestrians who get too close. It sounds like a Disney film, but, really, it's more like something from Hitchcock. 

And If that isn't bad enough, Vancouver's Canuck Crow became an international star when he stole a knife from a crime scene. 

I can see the tourism ads now: 

Canuck the Crow with Knife

Canuck the knife-wielding crow. (Facebook/thecrowandI)

"Our subways are safer than most… except for the knife-wielding crows!"  

Or what about:  "Nanaimo: where the cougars don't bother with Tinder" 

And it's not just BC that would benefit from this strategy. 
It could work in other towns with nervy wildlife too. Like Banff. 
And didn't Toronto go wild when those capybaras were on the loose? 

After all it's the surprise of it that makes it so enthralling. 
Canada is known for its wilderness, of course. 
And you expect to meet tooth-and-claw when you enter their world. 
But predators in the city? There's excitement. 

And you don't even have to wear fleece to enjoy it! 

Port Coquitlam Prairie Avenue black bear

A bear in a Metro Vancouver yard. (CBC)

I've been trying to sell the tourism industry on my vision for marketing Canada to the world… but so far I haven't had a single lunch invitation. 

Still, I know a goldmine when I see it. So I've decided to go ahead and write the definitive travel guide for those who want something more than the predictable urban amusements. 

"Don't Piss-off the Wildlife: The Key to Surviving West Coast Cities" 

I wonder if that sea lion has found an agent yet? 
He'd be the perfect coverboy. 


Shannon Rupp is a columnist with The Tyee