BY CATHY ELLIS
BANFF – Wildlife specialists are keeping close tabs on a bold yearling wolf from the Bow Valley pack in a bid to keep her from heading down a dangerous path and getting into human food and garbage.
The young gray coloured female wolf was captured and fitted with a GPS collar in late May near Tunnel Mountain campground so her movements could be tracked, allowing Parks Canada to haze her if she comes too close to busy areas.
Parks Canada officials say this wolf, known as No. 1904, hasn’t shown any signs of aggression, but she shows indifference towards people, even within close range in broad daylight, and has been curious around vehicles.
“We don’t know for sure if she’s been fed by people, but we wanted to get ahead of the game and prevent her from becoming food conditioned,” said Jesse Whittington, a wildlife biologist with Banff National Park.
“Once animals get a taste for human food, it’s really hard to change their behaviour.”
Three wolves were spotted near town on Monday (June 17), including one collared wolf on the edge of town that fled into the forest when it spotted a person walking west along Cougar Street.
The animals were later observed in the closed section of Tunnel Mountain campground. No. 1904 and two other members of the pack, including the breeding female and another wolf, were hazed away.
“They were all responsive to hazing,” Whittington said, noting they were likely hunting elk in the area.
Banff resource conservation officers are trying to avoid a repeat of a situation in 2016 when two female members of the Bow Valley pack, including the breeding female, were killed for public safety reasons after they got into human food and were approaching people.
“Anytime animals become food conditioned, whether it’s wolves or bears or foxes, it increases the risk to people, but also to those animals,” Whittington said.
“We will more than likely have to kill a food-conditioned animal if they start acting aggressively towards people to get food, so it’s imperative we never feed or entice wildlife.”
Members of Bow Valley Naturalists say Parks Canada staff work hard to keep wildlife alive, but ultimately the problem is the behaviour of people.
“I don’t know whether it’s the Disneyfication of wildlife,” said Reg Bunyan, a member of BVN’s board of directors, referring to how people view, treat and approach wild animals.
“One of the problems is people’s behaviour, but the other challenge is when you get into mass tourism like this, it’s difficult to be reaching people with appropriate messaging.”
As a retired resource conservation officer in Banff, Bunyan knows how difficult it is for staff who have to make difficult decisions to destroy wildlife.
“Everybody at Parks tries so hard to keep wolves, bears all of the wildlife alive, but it’s really difficult for critters and such a mass of humanity to coexist in such a small valley,” he said.
The current makeup of the Bow Valley wolf pack includes the breeding male and female and two yearlings.
A male yearling was hit and killed on the Trans-Canada Highway between the Norquay interchange and Forty Mile Creek near Banff on March 11.
Based on GPS data collected from collared wolves in the pack, Whittington said he suspects the wolves denned this spring and that pups are probably six to eight weeks old.
“We don’t know how many pups these wolves have had, and in the next couple of weeks they will start roaming further,” he said. “Through public observations and remote cameras we’ll get a better sense of how many pups they’ve had.”
The wolves are roaming the Bow Valley from Banff to Lake Louise and some of the side valleys hunting elk, sometimes travelling up to 40-kms a day. They’ve been spending time around Vermilion Lakes and Tunnel Mountain.
Whittington said the pack does travel in the wildlife corridors around town, noting it will be interesting to see if the wolves head to higher elevations later in the summer.
“It’s a fine balance. We want wolves travelling around town predating on the elk so they can naturally regulate the population without becoming overly habituated towards people,” he said.
The number to call to report wolf sightings to Banff park dispatch is 403-762-1470.