An elk protecting her newborn calf charged at a Banff woman riding her mountain bike on the slopes of Tunnel Mountain on Friday (May 25), forcing her to escape to safety up a tree for an hour and a half.
That incident, and one other involving the same female elk at the base of the Star Wars mountain bike trail, forced Parks Canada to put a warning up in the area.
Parks Canada asks people to keep 100 metres away from elk at this time of year, as females will lash out with their hooves and charge as they protect their newborn calves.
“The May-June calving season is particularly dangerous and people have to be very careful and give elk a wide berth,” said Steve Michel, a human-wildlife conflict specialist for Banff National Park.
“Everyone, particularly people out walking their dogs, have to be very careful because all ungulates – whether it’s elk, deer or moose – will be particularly sensitive to dogs as any canine is viewed as a predator.”
Two mountain bikers were charged by an aggressive female elk early last Friday afternoon at the base of the Star Wars trail. The female cyclist was charged at about 9 p.m., presumably by the same elk.
“She was unharmed, but had some mild shock and exposure because she was up the tree for quite a while and it was getting cold,” said Michel.
From mid-May to early July, cow elk go off into secluded woods to have their calves. For the first three weeks of an elk’s life it is defenseless to predators, so its mother keeps it well hidden in thickets.
During this time, the female elk visits the calf only a few times a day, standing guard not far away. She is always at the ready to strike out with her hooves if her calf is threatened, or to act as a decoy to lead predators away from her young.
Once the calf has gained its running legs, it re-joins the herd with its mother.
Michel said resource conservation specialists will typically temporarily close areas where female elk start to show signs of aggression towards people as they protect their young.
“Typically, we see these type of aggressive situations right after the calf is born, but it doesn’t tend to persist for a longer duration once the calf is more mobile,” he said.
Parks Canada offers the following safety tips:
Keep 30 metres away from elk at all times of the year, or at least 100m during the elk calving season in the spring and the rut in the fall;
If an elk becomes alert or nervous, grinds its teeth or sends its ears back, you’re too close;
Never come between a cow and her calf or between any group of elk;
and always carry bear spray.
To report an aggressive elk or incident, call Banff National Park dispatch at 403-762-1470.