BANFF – A typically wary wolf searching for food boldly ventured into a busy campground where she walked within a metre of two people sleeping under the stars.
The incident at Castle Mountain Campground on Aug. 27 prompted Parks Canada to issue a wolf warning for the Bow Valley Parkway, from the Fireside day use area to Castle Junction, including campgrounds and day use areas.
Parks Canada officials say a collared female wolf from the Bow Valley pack, known as number 1701, entered the campground that night and searched through several occupied sites for food.
“She walked between two people sleeping out in the open, coming within one metre of them, and then she left the campground,” said Jesse Whittington, a wildlife ecologist with Banff National Park.
“She was not interested in people. She was clearly investigating the site for food, but she did not get any food rewards.”
Whittington said an initial report indicated a wolf visited one campsite in the 43-site campground, didn’t get any food and travelled on.
But, he said, further investigation revealed she visited several sites, was unafraid of people, and continued searching for food even though people were following her with flashlights.
“This more consistent behaviour was concerning to us and, once we learned that, we implemented the warning,” said Whittington.
The three-and-a-half-year-old female wolf is the daughter and sister of two wolves killed by wildlife managers in 2016 after they boldly entered campgrounds and became food-conditioned.
The death of the two food-conditioned female wolves, plus several pups that year killed on the railway and highways, left only wolf 1701 and her father, 1501, in the pack at that time.
John Marriott, a local professional wildlife photographer who has captured the lives of many wolves in the Bow Valley on camera, said he’s hoping this is a one-off situation for 1701.
“Hopefully they get a chance to condition her if she comes anywhere near people and put that little bit of fear back into her,” he said.
“This does definitely give me a sense of dread, though, that this could be the start of unraveling.”
Wolf 1701 was born in 2015 and has always been one of the more wary members of the Bow Valley pack. Her father was also fairly wary as well.
“This is the first incident that we have of her travelling into a campground and exhibiting this behaviour,” he said.
The wolf is fitted with a conventional VHF collar so she can be tracked from the ground.
“We’ve had staff going out and monitoring her location every day and making sure she hasn’t been getting into campgrounds,” said Whittington.
Whittington said he’s not sure why 1701 is suddenly exhibiting more bold behaviour compared to the more skittish behaviour she’s shown to date.
But, he said, there’s no indication she has accessed food or garbage yet.
“Obviously we’re concerned if she’s going into a campground and looking for food and at this point we want to make sure she doesn’t receive any food rewards going forward,” said Whittington.
“Once wolves or any other wildlife get a taste for food it’s really hard to change behaviour. It’s so important we always make sure wildlife stay wary and don’t get into food or garbage.”
This wolf has walked up to Marriott’s vehicle in the past, coming within a few feet before he yelled at her and drove off. At that time, Marriott said he suspected she had been fed.
“Obviously, that’s not normal behaviour,” said Marriott. “But I was very pleasantly surprised with how her behaviour has gotten more wary in the last two years. I’m hoping a little bit more behaviour modification can snap it back up.”
Meanwhile, the former alpha male of the pack, 1501, appears to be in poor health. Though he no longer has a collar, it’s believed to be him based on his physical markings and colouration.
He was spotted moving around the edge of the Banff townsite toward Tunnel Mountain before continuing east on Aug. 20. One of the latest sightings puts him at Lac Des Arc on Aug. 28.
“He was emaciated and looked to be in rough shape,” said Whittington. “As wolves age it’s hard for them to hunt and he’s probably looking to scavenge food, road kill and rail kill.”
Parks Canada provides the following advice: never approach, entice or feed wildlife; ensure all food, garbage and pet food is stored inside a building or vehicle; supervise children and keep pets on a leash; if you’re approached by a wolf, act aggressively; carry bear spray and now how to use it.
Please report any sightings to Banff Dispatch at 403-762-1470.