I am riding my bike to save coastal carnivores, and you can help me

Ilona Mihalik poses with her bike at the top of PKOLS.

Around this time in 2016, my partner competed in the annual GranFondo– a gruelling 122 km bike race from Vancouver to Whistler. As I congratulated him on his achievement, I remember regretting not signing up to join him in the adventure.

I am not an accomplished cyclist; my only experience includes biking to work and school every day with my 1980’s Norco Monterey road bike for the past few years, and the occasional commute to the grocery store. I had never considered taking part in a long-distance ride because I felt intimidated by races like the GranFondo and the Ride to Conquer Cancer. Thoughts of “What if I don’t finish?” and “Where will I even get a proper bike to use?” would flood my head as I watched friends sign up each year.

This year I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and sign up for the 2018 GranFondo to raise funds for Raincoast’s Safeguard Coastal Carnivores Campaign.

I’ve been a part of Raincoast’s Applied Conservation Science (ACS) lab at the University of Victoria since 2016. I first began as a volunteer and Work Study student, spending time preparing bear and mouse hair for stable isotope analysis and looking through remote camera images. I then became a Directed Studies student and, most recently, an Honours student under the supervision of Dr. Chris Darimont. Throughout these two years, I have also been fortunate enough to work as a field technician on the Raincoast Bear Monitoring Project for two seasons.

A black bear walk down through the long grass to get to the water.

Photo by Ilona Mihalik.

I am passionate about wildlife conservation. I’ve always loved wildlife and have fond memories of being intrigued by crabs on the beach, searching for lizards and snakes at the park, and excitedly watching giraffes and elephants in South Africa (where I was born) during my childhood. Like most other people in my field, I still get excited and feel humbled when seeing another animal in the wild.

Support Ilona’s ride to Secure Coastal Carnivores

This past Spring, I worked with the Gitga’at Nation in partnership with Raincoast on the bear monitoring project. I worked with an incredible crew, and we set up non-reward sites to collect bear hair in beautiful watersheds and lush forests. We were lucky to encounter a pack of wolves, see numerous black bears, and even hear the scream of a cougar. One of my favourite memories was of us canoeing across a lake at sunset, while listening to a wolf communicating with his pack. The howls echoed throughout the valley and across the lake, surrounding us.

This area is home to each of these large carnivores, in addition to grizzly bears and wolverines. Each one plays a complex and important role here, and to witness them go about their day-to day activities first-hand is breathtaking. Unfortunately, they can all (with the exception of grizzly bears) be legally hunted for sport. My heart breaks thinking of each individual we encountered facing such suffering from this unethical threat.

Raincoast has partnered with Coastal First Nations for an opportunity to buy the commercial hunting license for an area (the Nadeea tenure). This is why I’m challenging myself to cycle 122 km, in order to fundraise for this campaign and protect these important animals from commercial trophy hunting. With each grueling hill, I’ll be thinking of each of these species and the individuals that comprise them.

Ilona Mihalik Ilona Mihalik in the cockpit of a helicopter flying above the Great Bear Rainforest.

Ilona is a Research Associate in the Raincoast Applied Conservation Science Lab. She is a nature enthusiast, animal lover, and conservation scientist. You can find her on her bicycle.

To support Ilona’s fundraising, visit her fundraising page.

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