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I’d become complacent around wildlife working in parks — until a predator stole my supper

Chad Dupuis has worked for Alberta Parks since 2017. He says living and working in the forest had let him become complacent about the wildlife who make the woods their home. (Submitted by Chad Dupuis)

This First Person column is by Chad Dupuis who lives in Slave Lake, Alta. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

The day had been hot with the sun beating down. It was Sunday, our busiest day of the week at Carson Pegasus Provincial Park, the Alberta park where I’d worked as the maintenance supervisor for the past four years. The team had just finished prepping more than 120 camping sites to have them ready for the new arrivals. 

Working in a park is hard — picking up garbage, emptying ash from firepits, removing rope from trees and raking up “spits” left behind by the weekend’s campers — but I was in a good mood as the day came to an end. 

I parked my truck and headed toward my Winnebago, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face, the sounds of the birds in the trees and the anticipation of the steak I had pulled out to barbecue for dinner.

I opened the door to my summer home, walked in — and saw the brown butcher paper on the floor. The meat was nowhere to be seen.  

I quickly looked around the room, my heart racing. What had happened? My mind went to the two-year-old black bear that lived nearby; it had wandered into my site a couple nights before. 

A black bear looks up toward the photographer while walking through a campsite. 
Dupuis was inside his camper in May 2021 when he snapped this photo of a young black bear wandering through his campsite. (Chad Dupuis )

But that didn’t make sense. How did he get in? And why wouldn’t he eat the other food in the camper? No, it couldn’t be a bear, there would be a greater mess.

My eyes kept scanning around the camper, looking for a clue. Could someone have come over to the camper when I was away and taken the steaks? It would not have been the first time that an unauthorized person had been seen in the area or someone tried to break into a park building. No, they would have taken the jar of change, probably worth $40, that was sitting on the counter.

What could it be?  

A growl under the bed

My eyes darted from place to place then came to rest on the window screen near the couch. There was a hole in the screen about the size of a softball. That was it! Some little critter had chewed through the screen and stolen my chosen meal for the day. 

A ragged hole in a mesh screen of a camper window looking out toward a campsite.
This softball-sized hole in the window screen of Dupuis’s camper van was his first clue that an animal had gotten into his home. (Chad Dupuis)

I took a deep breath, feeling a little defeated, much like when, as a kid, I’d wait excitedly for the end of the school day to play with a new toy only to come home and find that the dog chewed on it. 

This time, though, I had lost my supper that I had been looking forward to.

I had been living and working in the forest for the past several years and had numerous encounters with wildlife such as deer, black bears, grizzly bears, pheasants and many others. My lost dinner was a good reminder that no matter how much time I spend in the forest, it’s the animals’ home first. They are wild, unpredictable and can surprise you when you become complacent to their presence.  

I was sitting on the bed for a couple of minutes when I heard it: a low growl right that sounded like it was coming from underneath me.

Jumping up, I moved toward the door and stepped outside to get my bearings. The motorhome has a side door that allows outside access to the space under the bed, so I gently lifted the door and used a broom to prop it open.  

Then I backed up and waited to see what would come out.  

A cat-sized pine marten squeezes through the gap in a plexiglass window on top of a brown, wood shelf.
While working in a northern Alberta campground in 2021, Dupuis had plans to end his workday with a nice steak dinner but a pine marten — possibly the one in this photo — beat him to it. This photo shows a pine marten at a campground registration window at Carson Pegasus Provincial Park. (Submitted by Chad Dupuis )

After about a minute, a reddish-brown pine marten — a cat-sized member of the weasel family — came running out of the compartment door. He growled as he scrambled up a nearby tree and kept growling as I watched him, relieved that it had left my home.

He stayed up there, keeping his eyes on me as I went back inside the camper smiling to myself. This would be a great story to tell the crew the next day but tonight I was resigned to having dinner with Mr. Noodle.

WATCH | This marmot was looking for a free ride to town: 

Driver finds a marmot under the hood of his car while on the road

Vincent Bouchard’s drive home from Jasper, Alta., was something to remember as the vehicle’s dashboard lit up with warnings. Turns out, a marmot was causing the problem.


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