Banff's wolf strategy changing gears in national park

With three wolves from a problem pack captured and collared — along with one that had to be euthanized due to its aggressive behaviour— Parks Canada officials are switching gears around how they deal with the animals.

Visitors to national parks still being reminded not to feed wildlife

Parks Canada officials have collared three wolves from a problem pack in Banff National Park. (Dawn Villella/Associated Press)

Originally published June 14.

With three wolves from a problem pack captured and collared — along with one that had to be euthanized because of its aggressive behaviour — Parks Canada officials are changing the way they deal with the animals.

Bill Hunt, a resource conservation manager for Banff National Park, says they have started an aversive conditioning program that involves 24/7 telemetry — or the process of collecting data in remote areas that transmits to receiving equipment for monitoring.

"Anytime wolves come into a built up area, they'll pick that up on the telemetry and we'll go in and aggressively haze the animal out of that area."

The goal is to re-establish worry behaviour and help the animals understand which parts of the park officials want them in, Hunt told Alberta@Noon. 

"We're basically able to use a receiver to triangulate and figure out an approximate location," he said.

"It's really important with an animal like a wolf because they cover so much ground in a day."

A wolf warning was issued earlier this month after a pack entered an occupied campground at Tunnel Mountain and ignored efforts to chase them away.

One wolf was bold enough to grab a loaf of bread from a closed cooler. The captured wolves were fitted with radio collars to make monitoring them easier, said Hunt.

Hazing techniques

The animal specialists will do much the same thing they encourage people who encounter wildlife to do.

"The staff will look at the situation and use a whole range of techniques, from just their presence, to verbal cues, yelling at the wolf, hollering, being assertive and waving your arms," he said.

Parks officials will also be carrying non-lethal weapons.

"One of the tools we use is a paintball gun and rather than paintballs, we buy a chalk ball that is inert — it doesn't cause any pollution or harm in the environment," said Hunt.

"So if the wolf is not responding to any of those less than aggressive cues, we can fire chalk balls either at the ground around the wolf's feet or actually at the animal itself to chase it out of an area. It's a cat and mouse game for sure."

It's also important to condition park visitors to not make life more difficult for the wolves than it has to be.

"The largest part of this effort — 80 per cent of our success — will depend on the proactive efforts and that is all through prevention," said Hunt.

Education key

It might seem like common sense not to feed wildlife, but Hunt said some visitors don't know.

"Depending on where you're from in the world, in some places feeding wildlife is allowed or even encouraged in certain parks across the globe," he said.

"So we have a responsibility to make sure when people come to our national parks we do our very best to educate them and make sure they understand not only what isn't allowed but also the why."

With files from Alberta@Noon