The Bow Valley wolf pack, which was five strong at one point, has since disbanded, leaving only one young female wolf remaining in the area.
A breeding pair of wolves started the original wolf pack with three pups in the fall of 2015, but they began making trips into town that winter, according to Banff National Park Wildlife Ecologist Jesse Whittington, in a phone interview with Daily Hive.
The wolves were on the search for food, said Whittington, and they became so accustomed to humans – and the taste for human food – that two of the wolves, the mom and one of the yearlings, were going so far as to taking food out of campsite coolers.
Unfortunately, the two wolves had to be put down after attempts at reverse conditioning proved insufficient.
“What really hit home with these wolves is how hard it is for any wildlife when they become food conditioned,” Whittington said. “It only takes one or two times for them to become totally hooked on [human food], and then that becomes the focus of their movements.”
Whittington stressed the importance of properly securing your food and garbage while outdoors, both to protect humans from risky situations, but also to protect the wildlife from harmful conditioning.
After two wolves had been put down there was only the breeding male and two yearlings in the pack, according to Whittington, though the male yearling dispersed from the pack and was later shot in BC.
The breeding male then joined up with a pack further south, leaving the young female wolf alone in Bow Valley Provincial Park.
A decrease in wolf population can have a significant impact on the surrounding ecosystem, said Whittington, as wolves generally keep prey populations in check.
“Not only do [wolves] regulate the prey populations – the deer, elk, and moose – and typically prey upon the easiest animals to kill, which are generally the sick and weak, but they also have cascading effects on the entire ecosystem,” he said.
“When you don’t have wolves you get an overabundance of elk, and they will overgraze the vegetation – which can effect the songbird community and their population – so having wolves on the landscape is really important for maintaining the ecosystem.”
The Bow Valley wolf pack managed to have six pups last year, though four were hit by trains and the remaining two disappeared. Whittington said that navigating around human-built towns and roads is a challenge for wolves, though the Banff National Park has implemented strategies to make it easier.
“We’ve done a lot to improve conditions for wolves and other animals by provided overpasses and underpasses across the Trans Canada Highway, creating corridors around our campsites that they can easily travel, and we’ve implemented seasonal closures that greatly improve the habitat quality of the wildlife,” he said.
There is a chance that the original male will return to Bow Valley with his new wolf pack, or for another pack to move into the area during the winter when the snows deepen at higher elevations.