Last Thursday, resource conservation officers were able to dart and collar one of the young female wolves in the well-known pack.
“We now have three of the four adult members collared,” said Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager with Banff National Park.
It comes after the alpha female, or mother wolf, in the pack was shot and killed by wildlife officials last week because she had become aggressive after getting a taste for human food and garbage.
Experts suggested her death was inevitable, but noted that it could put stress on the rest of the pack — particularly the wolf pups that would have recently been weaned from their mother’s milk.
Hunt said they’ve had another sighting of this year’s pups near the den and there’s at least two, possibly more.
“They appear healthy and the (alpha) male and one of the yearlings was with them so it looks like they are continuing to maintain that site and take care of the young of the year,” he said.
Now that they’ve collared a third wolf, Hunt said they’ve switched their focus to an aversive conditioning program — a management technique that uses wildlife experts to try to modify an animal’s behaviour.
“Staff members are out in the field 24 hours a day on rotating shifts with telemetry,” he explained. “Every time a wolf enters a built-up area, we’ll get on them as quick as we can and try to haze them out of the area.”
They will jump out of their cars at the wolves, use noisemakers such as cracker pistols and fire paintball guns with chalk bullets to chase the wolves out of the Banff townsite and campgrounds.
“You can quite safely hit them in the rump and it delivers a small, painful stimulus — sort of like getting hit with a paintball gun,” he explained.
Hunt said they decided to shift gears after an internal debate over whether they’d be able to collar the fourth full-sized wolf.
“It’s a balance,” he said. “The longer we wait on the aversive conditioning, they still may be picking up bad habits or practicing bad habits.
“With three out of four, the important thing was to get on with it.”
There is still one team with the equipment to dart and collar a wolf if they get an opportunity, he said.
Hunt said they’ve been using aversive conditioning since Friday and there’s been only one case of some wolves trying to enter the Johnston Canyon campground.
“Hazing went very well and was successful,” he said, noting there have been no aggressive wolf incidents since the alpha female was killed.
Hunt reminded residents and visitors that the aversive conditioning program is reacting to a negative situation, but everyone has a part of play to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“The most important thing is the proactive prevention part,” he said, noting it means making sure the remaining wolves don’t have any more exposure to food or garbage.
As a result, he said park wardens are scouring the wilderness, where they are removing and ticketing illegal campers.
They are also targeting roadside litter.
“Over the course of these last 10 or 15 days, we have found a lot of the roadside garbage in and around the Hillsdale area along the Bow Valley Parkway has been investigated by the wolves,” he said, noting they found chew marks on the packaging.
Lastly, they are doing a blitz on the ‘Do not feed the wildlife’ message that has been in place for years by updating posters and putting them up throughout the park.
Visitors entering the park are also being reminded it’s illegal to feed wildlife as they drive under a large electronic welcome sign.
“The prevention piece is key,” said Hunt. “It’s going to be what makes or breaks it for these wolves.”
In another case of wildlife being fed, Hunt said they will reopen Castle Mountain campground before the weekend after unsuccessfully trying to trap a black bear that damaged a tent and approached a vehicle.
“There have been no further incidents,” he said, noting the closure is being lifted and it will become a warning for the area.