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Belligerent elk assault unsuspecting people in Banff

After two groups of elk attempted and failed to cross the Bow River in Banff, they have had aggressive encounters with people. One man was bowled over by a female elk. A warning is now in effect in the area.

Elk trapped in area because they could not cross the Bow River's thin ice

One elk calf died trying to cross the thin ice on the Bow River near the Banff townsite. (David Zalubowski/Canadian Press/AP)

Human encounters with aggressive elk occurred in Banff earlier this month after two groups of elk unsuccessfully attempted to cross the thin ice on the Bow River and were trapped in the area.

There was a "flurry of elk activity" from Nov. 9 to Nov. 11, said Jesse Whittington, with Parks Canada in Banff.

It began when a female elk and her calf broke through the thin ice on the Bow River, just upstream of the Banff townsite. 

"The calf succumbed to the cold and died and we were able to rescue the female," said Whittington.

The next day, a group of four bulls crashed through the ice near Central Park in Banff. Wildlife personnel with Parks Canada were able to cut through the ice in order to clear a path large enough for the elk to cross.

 "Those bulls survived, thankfully," he said.

That night, a man who was hiking back to the Banff Centre happened upon an "aggressive group of elk" and was bowled over by one charging elk that broke off from its herd.

"He tried to walk around and away from them but one of the females charged and knocked him down and he was injured and scared," said Whittington. "But thankfully his injuries were not serious."

The next morning, people leaving the Banff Centre faced off with a different group of elk. This time no one was knocked down.

"Some elk at the Banff Centre bluff charged some guests," Whittington said.

Wildlife officials are monitoring the elk but say no similar incidents of aggression have occurred since the first two.

One of the belligerent female elks was fitted with a radio collar by wildlife officials to keep a close eye on it, said Whittington.

"We can monitor them over time to see if they have perpetually aggressive behaviour. We can then try and implement aversive conditioning, and sometimes we'll remove those elk from the population," he said.

He said wildlife officials in the area are "surprised by these aggressive encounters." 

The area where the elk warning is in effect. The warning began on Nov. 11 and will end Dec. 1. (Parks Canada)

Elk warning in place

Usually, elk are more territorial and feisty when they've just given birth or during their mating season, so Whittington said they can't pinpoint exactly why the aggression of the animals is so high.

Elk rutting season is from late August until mid-October, according to the Town of Banff website.

"Maybe they just felt constrained and increased stress," he said. "The reality is we don't really know why they were stressed and aggressive like that."

He added that there is no unusual predator activity in the area.

An elk warning is now in place near the Banff Centre and Tunnel Mountain trails. Residents and visitors to those areas are being warned to steer clear if any elk are sighted.

"You want to give them space, and we recommend at least 30 metres from elk," said Whittington.

"If you see them, try and find an alternate way around them give them the space. Keep your children within arm's length and keep your dogs on leash."

People could also carry umbrellas or bear spray as they "can be very effective on elk," he added.

All elk sightings should be reported to Banff dispatch at 403-762-1470.

With files from Lucie Edwardson

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