Early Tuesday morning, officials euthanized the wolf that was involved in an incident at Tunnel Mountain campground a week ago.
“This wolf was extremely bold and was not fazed by campers’ efforts to scare it away,” Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager with Banff National Park, said in an interview.
The wolf forced the campers into their vehicle and got away with a loaf of bread, which suggests it started to associate people with getting food.
It’s one of at least 17 concerning incidents with the highly visible Bow Valley wolf pack since January when three of the wolves were observed eating garbage in the Johnston Canyon parking lot.
The incident at Tunnel Mountain campground led officials to issue a warning for the Bow Valley.
Since it was issued, officials said four more incidents involving the pack were reported — including a wolf entering another campsite at Johnston Canyon campground and another following a woman walking her dog in the Town of Banff.
Hunt said they’ve observed the pack over the past week and consulted with outside experts — both of which have made it clear they had to put down the wolf, which is now known to be the alpha female of the pack.
“History has shown that food conditioned carnivores present a clear risk to visitor safety,” he said, noting it could have led to someone being badly bitten. “This wolf was involved in a number of incidents involving people and food.
“In terms of risk management, it was appropriate to euthanize the animal.”
One of the world’s top wolf experts agreed they had no other choice.
“It was inevitable,” said Paul Paquet, an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and carnivore specialist with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. “Given all of the circumstances, I don’t know what else the outcome would have been.”
Two of the wolves in the Bow Valley pack are GPS collared, and wildlife officials will continue to try to collar the remaining two wolves in order to keep a closer eye on the pack.
There are also at least two pups at the den site.
Paquet said the death of the alpha female wolf puts the rest of the pack in a difficult situation.
“They will now have to rear the pups, which were probably just weaned,” he said, noting there’s also an emotional effect for a wolf pack to lose a member.
Hunt said they will keep a close eye on the remaining members of the pack, including the pups.
“They are certainly of the age where they are eating meat and running around,” he said. “Although it makes it challenging for those pups, they should be at the age where they are not requiring their mother for milk.”
Hunt said it was a difficult decision, but they hope it will mean they can help the rest of the pack.
“The other piece we heard loud and clear was as long as that female was showing that behaviour, passing it on to the yearlings and passing it on to these young-of-year pups, the problem would have continued to grow,” he said.
They hope to restore a natural wary behaviour in the pack through aversive conditioning, which involves making noise and using paint ball guns with chalk bullets to keep them out of specific areas.
Hunt said they will also work to increase visitor awareness about the problems related to feeding wolves and other wildlife.