BANFF – Two wolves were destroyed for public safety reasons in Banff National Park last week.
An old and injured non-breeding female wolf that had been hanging around the Banff townsite was put down on Thursday (July 9), while two days earlier an emaciated young, male wolf that appeared food-conditioned was destroyed near Sunshine Village.
Parks Canada is also examining DNA evidence to determine if the wolf at Sunshine is the same one that boldly entered two tents at Egypt Lake campground and got into food and garbage.
Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager for Banff National Park, said Parks Canada’s law enforcement branch is investigating the incidents at Sunshine and Egypt Lake campground.
“In both cases, it appears that the animals were highly food conditioned,” he said.
Wildlife officials say they became aware of the young wolf near Sunshine at the end of June, and asked staff at the ski resort to report any sightings of the animal.
Hunt said Parks Canada staff checking the area on July 6 spotted the wolf entering a storage building and approaching people near the ski hill.
“That was very concerning behaviour from a wild animal and would suggest that it’s either been getting access to garbage, or being fed or something,” he said.
Later that night, wildlife staff captured and put a collar on the animal, but the following morning, it was determined the animal was not a good candidate for rehabilitation. The decision to put the animal down was reached by consensus.
“We had our meeting and discussed the situation that we’d observed and the results of having the wolf in hand,” Hunt said, noting the wolf weighed only 40 pounds.
“It was in poor body condition, was excessively bold, and the behaviour the team saw when they were observing that day, and when they went to dart it, was extremely concerning.”
In a separate incident on Sunday (July 5), Parks Canada wildlife officials received a report from Egypt Lake backcountry campground, where a wolf entered two tents and removed an empty backpack from one of them.
In response, Parks Canada closed three backcountry campgrounds – Egypt Lake, Healy Creak and Pharaoh Creek – and posted a warning for all surrounding trails. The closure and warning is still in place.
Hunt said a wolf popped its head inside the vestibule of a tent with two people inside and made off with a backpack.
“The pack was empty, so that incident didn’t result in any food rewards,” he said.
The campers were able to get a message to Parks Canada about the frightening incident, which triggered Parks Canada’s investigation and closure of some backcountry campgrounds.
“When we went out there to put in place some of the closures, we received a report of another party who had already left the scene who had a similar experience,” Hunt said.
“The wolf did get some food rewards and there was evidence of food and garbage left around the site,” he added, noting staff also found grease and fat on rocks where an illegal campfire had been lit.
Parks Canada will know this week whether the incidents at Sunshine and Egypt Lake involved the same wolf.
Hunt said staff were able to collect some garbage and other materials, such as plastic water bottles, that had been chewed by the wolf.
“We’ve sent that material off to a lab to test for DNA,” he said. “We’ll be able to compare that with the wolf we destroyed at Sunshine.”
In a completely separate incident involving a different wolf, Parks Canada was called to help guide a wolf off the Trans-Canada Highway east of the Banff townsite near the water tower.
The animal was spotted later at Two Jack Canal, then back at the industrial compound.
“It was reported to have approached a vehicle that had some dogs in and it was coming up to vehicles,” Hunt said.
Over the course of a few days, there were also several reports posted on social media of wolf sightings inside the Banff townsite, including a woman who indicated a wolf walked within metres past her, and of a deer chasing a wolf.
“We believe it was all one individual who was moving back and forth, up and down the Bow Valley,” Hunt said, noting a wolf matching the same description was also seen in Harvie Heights.
When it was seen again in Banff on the afternoon of July 9, staff were able to track the wolf through the industrial compound and immobilize it. After the animal was examined, a decision was made to put it down.
“On closer examination, it was an older non-breeding female in poor body condition,” Hunt said, noting she had an old injury on a lower rear leg and many scars on her legs consistent with fighting with other wolves.
“She had badly worn and damaged canine teeth and so this animal was no longer able to forage in the wild. Options for aversive conditioning, or relocation, would not be effective.”
Given she was travelling back and forth along the benchlands between Banff and Harvie Heights, she may have been a former breeding female of the Fairholme pack.
“That’s certainly a speculation, but we can’t confirm that right now,” Hunt said.
“We don’t know her origins or where she came from, but it’s typical of an older previously breeding female that has been kicked out of the pack or has left the pack.”
Initially, there was speculation that this female wolf was a wolf dog.
“We will try and get some DNA and have it examined to increase our own understanding, whether there was hybridization of that animal,” Hunt said.
“But on close examination of its teeth and body condition, it doesn’t appear to be anyone’s pet at any point.”
When he heard about the wolf at Sunshine being destroyed, local wolf advocate John Marriott said he supports Parks Canada’s decision given the circumstances.
“It’s a fine line to walk knowing when a wolf is a good candidate for rehabilitation from a hazing program versus when to have to put it down,” he said.
“This seemed to be a new, unknown wolf and unfortunately it definitely showed serious signs of being food-conditioned,” he added.
“I’ve never been a fan of having to kill wildlife in the park, but tough decisions do have to be made sometimes.”
Marriott said the bottom line is that a dispersing wolf once again found Banff to be anything but protected.
“Wolves come here to die, which is tragic, especially when you consider the total lack of protection for wolves elsewhere in Alberta,” he said.
In 2016, Parks Canada was forced to kill two female wolves in the Bow Valley pack after they got into human food and were boldly approaching people. One of those was the former alpha female.
The current breeding female of the pack, who was young when her mother was killed, is the only surviving member of that former pack. The alpha male of the existing pack was hit and killed on the Trans-Canada Highway in May.
The pack did have pups this spring.
Hunt said Parks Canada works hard on wolf conservation, adding the new fence has buried aprons and they are working on electrifying the Texas gates so wolves can’t get onto the highway.
“We really rely on visitors and residents to secure food and garbage – and certainly no feeding wildlife in the national parks,” he said.
Parks Canada asks that any wolf sightings be reported to 403-762-1470.