It was a dramatic takedown of an elk by a local wolf pack on a railway overpass near the Banff townsite, leading to an hour-long spectacle to slow down trains and remove the carcass.
On Sunday morning, some visitors in Banff National Park witnessed the well-known wolves attacking the female elk and reported it to Parks Canada dispatch.
“The elk was actually killed by the wolves right up on the middle of the overpass,” said Steve Michel, human/wildlife conflict specialist with Banff National Park. “Wildlife staff attended and confirmed it.
“There were a number of people there taking photos, as well.”
One of those people was Christopher Martin, a professional photographer from Bragg Creek.
“On the weekend I was able to watch an amazing encounter in the Banff National Park,” he wrote on his website, where there’s another photo. “A pack of four wolves hunted and took down an elk on the outskirts of the Banff townsite.
“The wolves had trapped the elk on a train overpass and wore the much larger animal down with continuous lunges and bites.”
Martin said watching it was like a window into survival in nature.
“I came away in awe of the victors and their tenacity, intelligence and co-operation,” he said. “A shadow of sadness for the elk was a part of this story and I gave thanks for what that life lost meant to this pack.”
Afterward, Parks Canada staff asked Canadian Pacific to slow its trains to a crawl through the area for about an hour so they could remove the elk carcass and prevent any of the wolves from being hit on the track.
It did not lead to any delays for the railway, said Salem Woodrow, a spokeswoman for Canadian Pacific Railway.
Michel said they would normally leave the carcass out for the wolves to eat, but there was nowhere they could move it safely, so it’s being stored in a large freezer until they can put it out in a secure location.
“We’ll get (it) back out on to the landscape in the spring,” he said. “It’s unfortunate — we always like to give them the opportunity to keep it in the location where it’s been killed, but it doesn’t always work out that way.”
The wolves had trapped the elk on a train overpass and wore the much larger animal down with continuous lunges and bites.
The incident is the latest in a series of highly visible kills by the same wolf pack, which has five members, around the Banff townsite since last summer.
The pack, which has been hunting elk and deer, led wildlife officials to review the park’s elk management strategy.
In the annual survey last November, officials counted a total of 210 elk — including 136 cows, 21 bulls, 16 young males and 37 calves — between the east gates and Castle junction.
“That’s within the range that we’ve recorded in the past 10 or 15 years,” said David Gummer, wildlife ecologist with Banff National Park.
He said the wolves and other predators have helped control the elk numbers, but fewer animals have died on highways, railways or in other ways, so they will continue with their management strategy.
“We will try to remove 12 of the elk that have exhibited the most habituated or aggressive behaviour,” said Gummer, noting the wolves could still hunt some of those animals before spring.
If wildlife staff cull any of the problem elk, the animals are either provided to First Nations for food and ceremonial purposes, or put back out on the landscape for predators to eat.
The rest of the strategy involves using aversive conditioning, such as hazing, to increase the wariness of elk toward humans.
Temporary fencing is also put up on the wildlife crossing structures by the Banff townsite to keep some of the elk on the north side of the Trans-Canada Highway where they can be caught by cougars and wolves.
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