Wildlife experts at Banff National Park are hoping to give nature's predators a helping hand to control an exploding elk population that's getting a little too close to the Banff townsite.
Parks Canada wildlife specialist Jesse Whittington said the elk herd that liveswithin the town limits has grown rapidly in recent years.
"The population has doubled from 93 to 204 in the last three years," said Whittington. "We're concerned it's going to continue increasing."
With nothing to do but graze the day away under the watchful eye of Banff's tourists, some of the elkare getting a little too close to the community.
"There are elk that come right into the townsite every day. Wardens chase them out," said Whittington.
In an effort to control the numbers of town elk, Parks Canada plans to set up gates to push the elk into areas dominated by wolves and cougars, natural predators of elk.
"The idea is to keep the elk close to the predators … where they are more susceptible to predation," said Whittington.
Officialsalso plan to shoot the more habituated elk.
"The elk are wild animals… even though they come close to the townsite, they are wild animals. They've just realized when they are closer to people they are safe from predators."
Whittington said the method may seem harsh, but wildlife officials don't want a repeat of the elk population explosion that occurred in the Banff townsiteduring the mid-1990s. Large numbers of elk gathered in the townsite and along highways, posing a threat to public safety.
Large numbers of elk can also damage the environment, threatening aspen and willow, which are key to the survival of songbirds and beavers.
Whittington said nearby tree trunks stripped of bark are a tell-tale sign that there are too manyelk.
"We're concerned, over time, we may lose some of the aspen forests," he said.
The presence of the elkcan also change the feeding habits of other animals, such as deer who roam the area for food.