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Banff female wolf killed as 'precaution'

An “extremely bold” wolf that was recently approaching people in Banff National Park has been killed.
The Bow Valley wolf pack in 2015.
The Bow Valley wolf pack in 2015.

An “extremely bold” wolf that was recently approaching people in Banff National Park has been killed.

Parks Canada officials said they made the “difficult decision” to shoot and kill the alpha female of the Bow Valley wolf pack Tuesday (June 7) as a precaution, following her capture along the Bow Valley Parkway.

Officials said the reasoning was for visitor and resident safety and to improve the chances of rehabilitation for the remaining young-of-last-year pups.

Parks tried to avoid a habituated wildlife situation with the wolf pack, but the young wolves were learning from their daring mother to approach humans for food rewards and to also eat human garbage.

“The behaviour she was exhibiting was being observed by the three yearling and would have been observed by the young of year,” said Parks Canada resource conservation manager Bill Hunt.

“It was a difficult decision for us, and it's not taken lightly. We feel it has given the pack the best chances to persist in the Bow Valley.”

The wolf pack's known members are the adult father, three yearlings, and at least two young-of-year pups.

“The father has shown good behaviour and we're hoping he'll teach them how to hunt local prey like elk and deer.”

The action to have the wolf destroyed was taken after consultation by Parks with other wildlife management experts.

Paul Paquet, a recognized wolf expert who has studied wolves in Banff National Park, said wolves in the Bow Valley will “always be in jeopardy” because the chance to become food conditioned is “really high.”

“And that has never been resolved and I think we can expect to see more of that in the future,” said Paquet.

“The Bow Valley is very contagious and it's hard for wolves to make a living because the first step is accommodating humans ... we are all responsible.”

Having said that, however, Paquet explained there is an opportunity for rehabilitation for the three yearlings, but that will depend on how far along they have been food conditioned.

He added wolf attacks on humans are a rarity.

“The danger is low in the sense of extremely serious,” said Paquet. “Most often it would result in something like a bite, which is relatively minor with wolves and what they could do, but to place in context, that could involve a child. That would be very serious, and also possibly if something did escalate that far it could go beyond that and would be very rare.”

Parks will perform a necropsy to determine the physical state of the female. Hunt said he was unsure of her approximate age.

The female had at least two young of year pups in the den and “nothing is for sure” if the other wolves will take over for caring them, said Hunt.

“The pups are old enough now that they aren't dependent on the mother's milk and they are mobile and eating solid food,” said Hunt.

Paquet thinks their chances for survival increased due to them no longer being in the nursing stage.

“I think the chances are very good they will survive,” said Paquet. “Wolves being as social as they are, they are all caregivers for pups.”

He added the death of the breeding female could cause “tremendous stress” on the pack.

“Her removal has huge consequences for this pack because now they're going to have to realign themselves and that could take some time,” said Paquet.

Parks Canada is working to capture and collar two wolves in the pack.

The first incident of the recent series of sightings and interactions occurred May 31 at a Tunnel Mountain campsite.

Two wolves, one identified as the alpha female, approached campers and although they made no physical contact, the pair consistently approached the site despite efforts to scare them off. The pressing wolves made the campers retreat to their vehicle.

A wolf warning, which is still in place, was put up in the Bow Valley of Banff National Park.

An adult wolf came within five feet of an occupied campsite at Johnston Canyon on June 2. A second wolf was present, but didn't approach the site. Both wolves left the area because there wasn't a food attractant or food reward, according to Parks Canada.

A wolf approached a woman walking her leashed dog in the Canadian Pacific railway station area of Banff on June 4. The wolf followed the woman and her barking dog, and despite attempts to scare the wolf away, the woman flagged down a passing vehicle and took shelter with her dog inside. The wolf then left the scene.

Two companies were fined $1,000 recently after the Bow Valley wolves got into garbage left in a construction bin at Johnston Canyon in January.

In 2001, Parks Canada destroyed two wolves in Banff because they became food conditioned, and just a few years ago in 2012, another wolf had to be killed by the province due to being food conditioned.

The final straw was when the wolf followed an adult, child and puppy and they had to retreat to a washroom.

Parks advises that if you have a wolf encounter to be loud, act aggressively and discourage it approaching you. Keep an eye on pets and small children and carry bear spray and know how to use it.

Please report all wolf, bear and cougar sightings to Banff Dispatch at 403-762-1470.

With files from Cathy Ellis.

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