Alpha wolf, pack, limping through 2016

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The alpha male of the Bow Valley wolf pack appears to be hurt and limping.

It’s not known how the wolf was injured, whether he was hit on the Trans-Canada Highway on Friday (July 15) when he got inside the fence near Redearth Creek, or if he was struck when a train killed three pups from his pack earlier this month; or hurt some other way.

Parks Canada officials say resource conservation officers have not had a visual on the wolf, but one of the last second-hand reports they received was that the wolf was still observed limping, but mobile.

“We are not sure how he was injured,” said Christina Tricomi, a spokesperson for Banff National Park.

The area where the alpha male got onto the highway between the fence and a culvert is the same location a prominent wolf known as Delinda was killed after she got onto the highway in 2008.

The Bow Valley wolf pack has had a tough year.

The alpha female was killed by resource conservation officers on June 7 after a series of incidents involving bold behaviour had them worried about public safety, including when she grabbed bread from an occupied campsite.

On June 19, a young-of-the-year male pup was struck and killed by a train near Hillsdale Meadows, followed by the death of three more pups on the train tracks in the early morning hours of July 4.

John Marriott, a prominent local photographer who has come to know wolf packs in the park over the years, said it’s going to be a real struggle for the current members of this pack to survive.

“If they’re able to make it to this winter and stabilize without losing too many more members, and in particular, without losing their alpha male, then I think they have a chance to readjust and survive, but the fact is that the Bow Valley has become a very tenuous place for wolf families to survive long term in,” he said.

“There will always be wolves here, but I suspect we’ll only get to know individual wolves and families for brief two to three year stints before they’re killed off on the roads and railways and new wolves move in. That seems to be an ever-increasing pattern with wolves in the Bow Valley corridor the past two decades.”

Meanwhile, Parks Canada has extended a closure in the Hillsdale area until Aug. 31 to protect the remaining members of the pack.

“The duration of the Hillsdale closure has been extended to provide increased habitat security for the Bow Valley wolf pack in the area of the den and rendezvous sites,” said Tricomi.

Marriott welcomed the move, saying he’s pleased to see Parks Canada taking preventative action with this pack when it’s at such a vulnerable stage with no alpha female and an injured alpha male.

“Anything that can be done to help this wolf family survive should be looked at and this is a great first step that provides them with a safe area that is secure for them to continue to raise the two remaining young pups in,” he said.

If the wolves do make it through this year and the alpha male mates again next year, Marriott said he hopes Parks will consider extending the night closure on the Bow Valley Parkway beyond June 25 into mid-July to provide wolves more security around their den site later into the denning season.

He also said he believes Parks Canada should look at closing any rendezvous areas that they discover the wolves are using this year.

“That will provide further secure habitat where the wolves aren’t going to come into contact with humans,” Marriot said.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook