Last October, the US Fish and Wildlife Service rejected 25 separate petitions to award endangered species status to the Pacific walrus, the mole skink, Bicknell’s thrush and, well, 22 other threatened species that, according to scientists, are hanging on by their shrinking habitat.

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Conservationists, concerned about environmental rollbacks, are frantically writing petitions, sending fundraising letters and giving speeches to convince a pro-development government that biodiversity protects against climate change and ensures a stable food supply.

Perhaps a better tactic would be to take them to Parc Omega, a 2200-acre wildlife park in Montebello, Quebec. When you’re looking into the golf ball-sized eyeball of a wapiti or giggling from the tickling tongue of a white-tailed deer or standing less than six-feet away from a yawning wolf cub, you quickly come to realize that all of us are in this together.

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That’s why famed zoologist Serge Lussier came out of retirement to run this park where humans have life-changing encounters with three kinds of wolves, polar foxes, bears and moose.

“It’s hard to find the will to protect anything you don’t really know,” Lussier says. “Everything changes when you come here, when you have intimate interactions with the natural world. I took this job because this is how we change the world.”

At Parc Omega, you can sleep with wolves, feed carrots to elk and experience special connections with buffalo, foxes and a moose/goat duo who are BFF’s.

The view alone is worth the admission price. Sitting on the less-visited side of the Laurentian Mountains, Parc Omega offers a 7.5-mile safari through the meadows, mountains, forests, boreal and other ecosystems of Canada. And while it fits the dictionary definition of a zoo (a collection of wild animals for study, conservation of display to the public), at Parc Omega, it’s the animals who wander freely and the homo sapiens who are caged inside cars.

The most unique feature is the one-on-one’s which you’re guaranteed to get if you take Lussier’s advice to “pay admission” with half a carrot

But why stop there? Most cars make the journey with a minimum of five pounds of the ubiquitous orange veggie. The animals literally greet you in your cars, even sticking their snouts inside to fully make your acquaintance. These remarkable encounters are fun for kids and adults alike.

I’ve run into Sylvester Stallone, Nicole Kidman, Michael Douglas and other celebs in my travels, but those chance meetings pale in comparison to sharing a carrot with wild boars, muskox, Alpine ibex and caribou.

If you go from February to April, you can hike (it’s short) to the park’s cabane a sucre, an old-fashioned sugar shack. You can watch maples being tapped and sample maple taffy lollipops laid out on the snow.park omega 4

Parc Omega also has an 1847 farmstead, a First Nations Trail (wishes made while walking under the wing of the beautifully carved Thunderbird are rumored to come true), a grilled cheese and hot chocolate-style restaurant, picnic sites and tipis, prospector tents and beautifully-carved log cabins for overnighters. The House on Stilts overlooks the black bear and timber wolf enclosures and has a balcony and palm-leaf roof.

Lussier is currently unrolling corporate events and bridal parties at the wolf overlook.

But if you simply want to channel Dr. Doolittle, get up close and personal (whether you talk or not is up to you) with animals of all kinds, here are a few useful tips:

1. Along with carrots, take paper towels. Animals drool. And expect your car to get muddy.

2. Keep your windows at half mast. Baby Ibex like to climb in cars.

3. Tune into the park’s FM radio stations that provide guidance and directions in both English and French.

4. Don’t skimp on time. Approximately halfway between Montreal and Ottawa, Parc Omega makes for a great day trip, but no matter how much time you allow, you’ll inevitably wish you had more.

 

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