As It Happens

Banff National Park officials euthanize wolf after aggressive behaviour

Bill Hunt says park officials had to euthanize a wolf in Banff because it was acting aggressive towards visitors and putting their safety at risk.
Dennis Rybicki says wolf attacks have resulted in more than $100,000 in damages at his Athabasca-area cattle ranch. (Dawn Villella/Associated Press)
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On Tuesday, a female wolf in Banff National Park was shot and killed by officials.

The decision comes after the wolf approached a group of campers and took food from their cooler. Officials say it's not the first time that this wolf and it's pack have acted aggressively towards humans.

"It was a very difficult decision," Bill Hunt tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "It's one we've been formulating over the past week using a variety of information."


2 grey wolves were observed at a trailer court by Parks Canada on Thursday. (Simon Ham/Parks Canada)

Hunt is a resource conservation manager for Banff National Park. He says the park weighed alternative options like relocation and aversion conditioning. But after deliberating and consulting with wildlife management experts, euthanizing the adult wolf was the only option to ensure visitor safety.
Hunt says they were able to identify the wolf as the animal exhibiting aggressive behaviour because of the its markings.

"In this case we shifted from habituated behaviour, where they're used to people, to what we call to food-conditioned behaviour," Hunt explains. "Instead of seeking out normal prey species — moose, elk and deer — they've shifted, and certainly in the case of this adult, [she] has shifted her behaviour to focus in on the opportunity to get food from people."

The wolf warning poster issued by Parks Canada (Parks Canada)

Hunt says when wolves shift to food reward conditioned behaviour "it's a downward slide" and visitors are at risk. It's particularly difficult when the affected animal is an adult.

"We had to make a decision in terms of the risk to public safety," Hunt explains. "But also, she's teaching these bad behaviours to three yearlings, so in the interests of the yearlings, we felt we had to remove this wolf."

A view of Peyto Lake in Banff National Park is shown in this undated handout photo. (Travel Alberta/CP)

It has been 15 years since Parks Canada has had to euthanize a wolf. The park is working on collaring the remaining two yearlings so that they can apply aversion conditioning. The alpha male and one of the yearlings have already been collared. Hunt says the park is also considering alternative ways to manage human use and educate visitors through awareness programs.

"It's very tempting for visitors to, in an effort to get a good photo, throw out some little scrap to get the animal to pause," Hunt explains. "Those single incidents are essentially a death sentence for that animal because they become, so quickly conditioned to respond to people and seek out people for food."

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