Banff overrun by booming elk population

Scientists are trying to find ways to deal with a booming elk population in the town of Banff.

They say the number of elk has ballooned 10 times as the animals seek refuge from a growing number of predators in the mountain park, including two new wolf packs.

Dave Dalman, the ecosystems secretariat manager for Banff National Park, says that's also creating a hazard for humans because the predators are following the elk into town. He says biologists believe that's what happened when a cougar stalked and killed a skier near Lake Minnewanka Jan. 2.

"People are getting into the middle of the predator-prey relationship," says Dalman. "We have to look at ways that are more effective to disentangle this human-wolves-prey relationship."

Dalman says park officials have erected fences and tried other methods to keep the elk away. He says wardens have even trucked the elk out of town, but that doesn't always work.

"We are finding that we have frequent riders," says Dalman. "Elk don't seem to mind being trapped, fed a little bit of hay, and going for a ride in the truck."

But Dalman says they usually find their way back to town.

"They've learned it's a harsh world out there with wolves and, so far, it hasn't been harsh enough around people," he says. "We've got almost 10 generations of learning habituated behaviour, instead of learning wary behaviour, and we have to correct that problem."

Biologists from around the world are to meet in Banff in a couple of weeks. Dalman hopes the experts will have some new thoughts on how to deal with the urban elk.