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Alberta wildlife return to ravaged Waterton park

The 'exceptional magnitude' of the Kenow fire killed many animals and forced others to flee. Now those who survived are returning and must adapt to their altered landscape.

Survivors must find new food sources and unburned habitat to survive the winter

This big horn sheep, photographed near the Akamina Parkway in Waterton Lakes National Park, must find unburned habitat to survive the winter. (Dan Rafla/Parks Canada)

Animals chased from their natural habitat by smoke and flame have found their way back home to a dramatically altered Waterton Lakes National Park.

Now the survivors are faced with the challenging task of finding new food sources and shelter in their fire-ravaged landscape.

A bull elk is sighted among the remains of the burnt forest of the Akamina Valley. (Dan Rafla/Parks Canada)

The "rapid growth and extreme fire behaviour" exhibited by the Kenow wildfire created an "unprecedented situation," killing many wildlife in the park, said Parks Canada in a release.

But healthy animals, including elk, deer, moose, bears and sheep, have recently been observed within the fire area.

A cow moose wanders through the burned forest near the Akamina Parkway. (Dan Rafla/Parks Canada)

Parks Canada staff say they are looking for seriously wounded animals and are euthanizing those with injuries that are not survivable or treatable.

Animal carcasses are being left on the landscape to provide food for surviving carnivores and scavengers, Parks Canada said.

A female black bear and her cub feed on a bull elk carcass left in the wake of the fire along Blakiston Creek, near the Red Rock Parkway. (Dan Rafla/Parks Canada)

Authorities will continue to observe the long-term effects of this fire on wildlife.

They say fire has always been part of the natural cycle that has shaped the habitat and vegetation, and they expect the flora and fauna in the park to respond in a positive way in the long run.

In the meantime, authorities urge residents and visitors to take extra precautions around park wildlife — many are under exceptional stress and may act abnormally as a result.

A white-tail doe looks for forage in a few unburned areas near a wetland along Blakiston Creek. (Dan Rafla/Parks Canada)