BANFF – Hope has not yet faded for a new male wolf to join the Bow Valley pack this winter following the death of the breeding male on the Trans-Canada Highway in spring.
Jesse Whittington, a wildlife ecologist for Banff National Park, said he’s hopeful a dispersing male from somewhere else shows up to breed this winter with the matriarch of the pack, known as wolf No. 1701.
“Right now we’re aware of six or seven wolves,” Whittington said, noting the pack had at least seven pups in spring.
“As of June, we were aware of five pups, and as the pack coalesces this fall, we hope to get a better count.”
The breeding male of the pack, known as No. 1901, was run over and killed on the Trans-Canada Highway near Vermilion Lakes in May.
The collared wolf got onto the fenced highway at one of the interchanges by crossing over a cattle guard.
The breeding female, known as 1701, is the last remaining member of the former Bow Valley pack. In 2016, two members of the pack, including the then breeding female, became food-conditioned and were killed by Parks Canada for public safety reasons.
“Occasionally, we have a period of high turnover and high mortality with the Bow Valley pack, say on roads and railway,” Whittington said.
“But one of the neat things is when we get a breeding pair that can live and den and occupy the Bow Valley for several years, we find a strong pack again.”
The Bow Valley wolf pack continues to range from the east boundary of Banff National Park near Harvie Heights to Lake Louise and surrounding valleys in between.
The sub-adult male in the pack, which is fitted with a GPS collar, recently ventured into the Canmore area.
“At least one member nipped across the north side of Canmore to go to Gap Lake and back,” Whittington said. “He did that a couple of times over the past two months.”
John Marriott, a local wildlife photographer passionate about the Bow Valley wolf pack, said the wolves appear to be doing well and hunting around the townsite.
“There’s no sign of a new male as far as I know, but I’d guess they’ll meet someone new before breeding season in January,” he said.
“The Bow Valley pack, back in 2008-09, actually mated within the pack. The alpha male bred with his daughter, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect that to happen with this family.”
Meanwhile, backcountry cameras captured images of two adult wolves with three pups in the Red Deer pack. Cameras also showed two adults with one pup in the Panther-Cascade Valley in June.
Interestingly, Parks Canada staff found two dead pups in the Panther Valley lying on the trail this summer.
“We don’t know why those pups died or how many are left in that pack,” Whittington said.
“They were decomposed by the time staff found them, but it suggests there was a breeding pair in that area.”
There is currently no Fairholme pack. In terms of the Spray wolf pack, remote cameras are picking up photos of one or two wolves.
In the remote Spray area exists one of the first known den sites used by wolves when they recolonized the southern end of the park in the 1980s. Evidence shows this site has been used on and off for denning since the 1940s.
Whittington, however, said it is not known if the wolves spotted in that region had pups this year.
“That’s an ephemeral pack and it’s not great habitat,” he said.