Tag Archive: Wolf pup

Wild Pup

Wolf pup black 2014

Wild wolf sightings are always thrilling, but seeing and photographing wolf pups takes it to a whole new level. Finding them is the first challenge. Getting any decent photos is the next. I positioned myself next to a small clearing and silently waited, hoping one of them would come out into the clearing. Luck was on my side that day and I managed to get a few decent photos of this little black pup, no more than 3 months old before it trotted off to join its siblings as they explored their surroundings.

Grey pup BW PS SF WM

I guess I spoke too soon in my recent post about this wolf helping the pack with puppy chores in the spring. Just a few days ago, on the morning of Friday, April 5th this wolf’s life was cut short by a CP train in Banff National Park.  The young male was just shy of its one year birthday.

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that it was killed by a train, after all this has been a routine event in Banff for years now. Trains remain the number one killer of Banff grizzly bears and in the past year numerous black bears and several wolves have also met their demise on the tracks. This is not even mentioning the elk, deer, moose and coyotes. Everything from the smallest birds to the largest mammals are commonly hit by the trains as they travel through the park.

The pack that this wolf belonged to has 2 of 6 pups remaining from last years litter.  Only 1 of 7 pups from the previous year has survived. Of the two surviving 1-year-old pups, one was hit by a train in late fall while she and the rest of her family were feeding on a rail killed deer carcass next to the tracks.   Somehow this wolf managed to survive the strike and miraculously has made it through the winter and appears to have almost completely healed from what I suspect was a fractured left hind limb. Of the seven pups born the previous year all but the surviving wolf were either hit by trains or cars.

Efforts continue between Parks Canada and CP Rail to research the factors that influence these train mortalities.  While it’s great that they have committed time, money and staff to this problem, the fact remains that train caused wildlife deaths in the park have occurred on a frequent basis for years and despite some attempts to address the problem, it continues to happen on a very regular basis.The vacuum truck that is supposed to remove the grain spills doesn’t seem to come along the high risk areas of the tracks during the winter and it would seem that grain spills, which as you will see are pretty obvious, go unreported. Wildlife-train collisions are also not always reported and the strikes that are reported are not always appropriately removed from the tracks.  Add in that parks staff have been cut thin to the point that they can’t always adequately respond to all the human wildlife conflict events in a timely manner and several other variables that are a product of chronic underfunding and we have a recipe for more wildlife carnage.

CP train and spilled grain PS SSOne has to see the hypocrisy that signs in Banff state it’s illegal to feed wildlife and yet these trains are doing just that, like a giant cafeteria conveyor belt. Expecting others to act responsible while allowing this to occur is a perfect example of do as I say and not as I do.

While it is simplistic to say that all the train mortalities are caused either directly or indirectly from the grain, one has to accept the fact that even if grain or other food attractants aren’t present at the time of the event, animals will still travel the tracks looking for the free handouts whether they are there or not. After all, this has become a learned behaviour passed down from generation to generation. They have been condition from the time they are old enough to walk or fly that the tracks offer a steady supply of food so one cannot truthfully state that a particular train mortality wasn’t associated with grain or a carcass simply because these attractants weren’t present at the time of death. This is misconstruing the root of the problem. It will take years of continuous negative feedbacks for animals to stop coming to the tracks to look for handouts. The reduction in spillage to current levels is a start but breaking this pattern will require no less than complete prevention of these spills and quick removal of any carcasses from the area.  Only then will researchers be able to tease apart the other minor factors that might be at play.

In the grand scheme of things this is only one more human induced wildlife death in the long record of deaths that have happened in Banff and all along the tracks from Saskatchewan to Vancouver. However, it should serve as a prime example to every stakeholder that sooner than later added actions are required to address this problem and there is no better place to start than in Banff.  Parks and CP rail should not simply state ongoing research will be used to investigate possible solutions. Short term solutions are required now while the longer term options are investigated. However, the buck doesn’t just stop with them. Instead of visitors just complaining about all the most recent deaths and demanding something be done, they too should take actions of their own. If you are a visitor to the park and are walking near the tracks, report any carcasses, grain spills or any other concerns to Parks by calling Banff Dispatch at 403-762-1470 (24hrs/day). Even better if you can follow-up to make sure that the problem has been addressed and if it hasn’t, report it again. Every time a call is made a paper record is created that must be reviewed by Parks Canada management to make sure that the problem is taken care of. Other options include photographing what you see and forwarding it along or contacting Parks and CP staff directly with your concerns.

My hope is that this most recent death helps initiate more concerted efforts by everyone to actually solve this decades old problem. One can still hope can’t they?

Grey pup 3 months PS SS WMA 3 month old grey wolf pup takes in its surroundings after recently leaving the den.

Grey wolf pup 10 months PS LFSeven months later he has grown into an impressive animal with thousands of miles under his feet and has learned how to hunt deer and other small prey on its own. Over the coming months he will be relied upon to help provide food, puppy sitting duties and protection for a new litter of pups.

The Bow Valley is dominated by human presence and infrastructure that the wolf pack must navigate on a daily basis.  Of the 7 pups born into the pack last year, 6  died due to either train or motor vehicle accidents. As the summer has progressed, this years litter of wolf pups are now spending all their time on the go with their parents and the yearling sibling, learning the ropes of the Bow Valley ecosystem. It won’t be easy for them to survive in this environment but so far four have managed to make it past the first few months and are quickly learning the lessons required to survive.

Shortly after the 4 month old pup howled I heard rustling in the bushes just ahead of me. Peering up the avalanche chute, through all the bent aspen saplings I spotted the movements of another wolf. As it entered a clearing it was clear that it was the mother. She was making her way through the trees  carrying the back end of a lamb in her mouth! She made her way to the pup hiding in the forest and shortly afterwards I heard the excited cries of the reunion and then growls over the meat. If you look closely you can see the hooves of the lamb near the base of the radio-collar.  Survival of the fittest in its purest form.

It is relatively common to see black wolves in North America, but that was not always the case. In fact, the black colouration is actually, in evolutionary time, a recent coat colour inherited from none other then the domestic dog some 10,000 to 14,000 years ago. Genomic studies have shown that prior to this time there were no black wolves. However, this trait was common in dogs and through breeding between the two, this gene has since been incorporated into the North American wolf genome and has provided these wolves with an adaptive advantage. What that advantage is no one really knows. Theories include improved camouflage, which doesn’t hold a lot of weight when you consider that wolves are not ambush predators. Another is that black colouration is linked to other genes that enhance immune function, which would provide these individuals with an obvious advantage. However, this theory has holes as well because there aren’t any black Arctic wolves, which you would expect if black colouration provided such a clear immune advantage but. Whatever the reason, Banff National Park has one of, if not the highest proportion of black wolves anywhere. This black wolf pup is one of six pups born this spring in Banff National Park. Of those six pups, five are black.

A three month old wolf pup peers out from behind a small hill in Banff National Park. This pup is one of six born this spring in Banff National Park. He is one of the bold ones, and as such tends to wander off from the den area without parental supervision to explore his new surroundings. Already, the parents are taking the pups on long hunting excursions, swimming across fast flowing rivers, avoiding grizzly and black bears, navigating the roads and railways all the while searching for their next meal. If the family is lucky, half of the pups will survive through their first year.