Around 2:00 a.m. Monday, the pups were struck by a CP train on the tracks near a pull-out on the Bow Valley Parkway overlooking an area called Backswamp.
“It was two males and one female,” said Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager with Banff National Park, noting that the report from CP suggested there were five or six wolves around the tracks when it happened.
There was an alpha male, three yearlings and five eight- to 10-week old pups in the wolf pack before Monday’s incident.
Hunt said they’ve been out to the site to take a look around for other injured wolves hit by the train.
“They weren’t sure what they had hit or not,” he said. “We still don’t know if other animals may have been injured, but we were unable to locate anyone else to see. Now we’re monitoring to see if there are still two young-of-year pups or not.”
Monday’s pup deaths are the latest in a series of losses for the Bow Valley wolf pack, which had lost another pup on the railway tracks on June 18.
All of the deaths come after the mother wolf was shot and killed by Parks Canada, because she became aggressive after she had developed a taste for human food and garbage.
Another one of the pack members was darted and fitted with a monitoring collar a few days later, meaning three of the remaining four grown wolves in the pack — including the father, or alpha male — can be closely watched.
Hunt said they it’s been a tough time for the pack.
“That’s a huge loss this year, with four out of six (dead),” he said, noting there’s typically a 40 to 60 per cent mortality rate for wolf pups. “It’s certainly disappointing after all of the work we’ve put in.”
A renowned wolf expert said pups can die, but these deaths are directly related to human activities.
“This is over and above what might occur normally — and that’s a major concern,” said Paul Paquet, an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and carnivore specialist with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. “We have a very congested Bow Valley and multiple threats to their survival.
“It’s a very, very difficult place for wolves to survive.”
Paquet suggested that it’s time for CP rail to consider slowing down their trains to help protect wildlife in the national parks.
“CP is good about reporting,” he said. “They haven’t been good at slowing down.”
Officials with CP did not directly address the issue of train speeds in an emailed statement on the incident — although they said they’ve instructed crews to be on the lookout for wildlife through the corridor.
Hunt added that it’s unknown whether speed was a factor in the latest incident, but he noted that they continue to work with CP to reduce wildlife deaths on the railway tracks.