Banff wolves worry officials after train deaths and persistent bad behaviour

Four of the six pups born this spring to the Bow Valley wolf pack have been killed by trains, and the remaining grown members could be destroyed if they don't reverse their "inappropriate behaviour."

Parks Canada aims to reverse bad wolf behaviour with 'aversive conditioning' that sometimes causes pain

Of the six pups born in April in Banff National Park in April, at most two pups are still alive. The remainder of the pack consists of three yearlings and an alpha male. (Dawn Villella/Associated Press)

The wolves in Banff National Park are taking a licking.

Four of the six pups born in April to the Bow Valley wolf pack have been killed by trains, and now officials are intentionally causing pain to some of the grown wolves in an attempt to reverse bad behaviour that could end up getting the wolves killed. 

Officials are particularly concerned about one member of the pack that wandered through the Johnson Canyon campground and managed to find some human food scraps. 

This particular yearling has continued to exhibit "inappropriate behaviour," in its quest to find human food, said Steve Michel, Parks Canada human-wildlife conflict specialist.

'We haze them very aggressively'

Normally, Parks Canada discourages this kind of dangerous behaviour through the use of radio collars. 

But only three of the four grown members of the pack currently wear them. 

These collars allows officials to track the wolves' movement and use "aversive conditioning" when necessary to discourage the wolves from entering specific regions.

"When they come into developed areas, whether it's campgrounds, or picnic grounds, or town sites, we haze them very aggressively away from those locations with a variety of deterrents, including impact deterrents that are designed to cause them pain," said Michel.

Two grey wolves were observed at a trailer court by Parks Canada earlier this summer. (Simon Ham/Parks Canada)

The alternative, said Michel, would be to kill the wolves that continue to exhibit this kind of behaviour. 

"Once an animal becomes food conditioned, it often can be irreversible," he said. 

"Ultimately, that animal may have to be destroyed and removed from the ecosystem. That's something that nobody wants to see in a place like Banff National Park."

Officials urge proper trash disposal

Michel said he remains optimistic that officials will be able to reverse the bad behaviour of all four wolves, including the "particularly problematic" yearling.

A wolf warning is currently in effect for all campgrounds and picnic areas in Banff National Park.

Michel urges residents and visitors to store food properly and dispose of garbage in the designated receptacles.

Failure to do so can result in a maximum fine of $25,000 under the Canada National Parks Act.

An example of what not to do. 'The reality is that any time a bear, or a wolf, or an animal like that gets into food, or garbage, or some kind of unnatural human attractant, that can be a really dangerous path for that animal to go down,' says Michel. (Bailey White/CBC)

With files from Tim Devlin