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Predators

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WOLVES

Alberta has a Wolf Management Plan that calls for a population of 50 wolves to be maintained in southwestern Alberta. This plan is consistent with the interest of Parks Canada for maintaining wolf populations as part of healthy park ecosystems. The recovery of wolves in southern Alberta is complicated by current hunting regulations. Albertans can hunt wolves without a license for about nine months of the year. Land owners can destroy wolves on or within five miles of their land. There is also no quota on how many wolves trappers can take each year.

The goal of managing a stable wolf population with minimal conflict is further complicated by the many myths, legends and misconceptions associated with them. Here are some of the myths on both sides of the argument:

  1. Myth: Wolves are bloodthirsty killers who waste more than they can eat.


    Truth: Given the right conditions, wolves will kill more than they can eat. Normally they eat most of their kills. What is left is eaten by ravens, chickadees, eagles, coyotes, bobcats and other creatures. 

    Death in our society is usually feared and ritualized. Often these human concepts are applied to wildlife. We judge killing in nature to be "good" or "bad" when in reality death is a precondition for life. The act of killing is necessary for the perpetuation of a complex biological life system.

     

  2. Myth: Wolves don't have any real impact on game populations; that's just an excuse for wolf control campaigns.
  3. Truth: Wolves are carnivores. They need and eat a lot of protein. Many studies have shown that wolves can affect herd numbers, but the situation is usually self-regulating. When prey numbers decline, wolf numbers do too. When forage conditions improve, the cycle reverses itself.

     

  4. Myth: Wolves will keep increasing until there's no game in the country. 

    Truth: Wolves can breed prolifically, but normally only the alpha female and alpha male of a pack mate. Unlike domestic canines, they only do so once a year. There is also a high death rate amongst pups and juveniles. As roads and access increase, wolves and other wildlife become more vulnerable to human actions. The chance of wolves greatly increasing anywhere in their natural range is low. Even in Montana, where they are protected by law, the population has hovered between 70 and 90 for several years.

     

  5. Myth: Wolves will slaughter all our cattle and sheep. 

    Truth: In 1994, the Belly River wolf pack raised seven pups within a half-kilometer of 150 cow-calf pairs. At the end of the summer, livestock producers in the area confirmed that they had recorded no losses to wolves. Research has shown that wolf packs, while opportunistic, tend to select prey for which they develop expertise in hunting. If this is the case, it may be possible to retain wolves that select wild prey by choice, while destroying wolves that develop a habit of hunting livestock. Ranchers and wolves should be able to live together as long as there is fair monetary compensation for lost live stock and offending wolves are quickly identified and destroyed.

     

  6. Myth: Wolves are cruel and kill for the fun of it.

    Truth: Wolves, like sport hunters, take hunting very seriously. To enjoy the hunt is not the same as being bloodthirsty; it is part of being a predator. Wolves have to hunt to survive. They do not catch everything they chase and they can often go up to two weeks without eating.

     

  7. Myth: Wolves are a threat to our children.

    Truth: No one has ever been attacked by a healthy wolf in North America. Even in northern areas, where managers have problems with people hand feeding arctic wolves, there have been no

     

  8. Myth: If we have lived without wolves for 100 years why would we consider relocating them now?

    Truth: The relocation of wolves into the Waterton Lakes and Glacier ecosystems has never happened, nor is it likely to occur in the future. The natural expansion of wolves into both Alberta and Montana is coming from the north and western B.C. This natural expansion has occurred several times over the last hundred years.

The protection of wolves in national parks alone will not ensure their future survival. Wolves wander extensively outside of Waterton Lakes and Glacier to find food and shelter. For example, one of Glacier's radio collared wolves traveled north, almost to the Yukon, in one winter! Each year, as more habitat is lost and travel corridors close, space for wolves and other wildlife shrinks.

Over the past century we have proven we can eradicate wolves. The real challenge will be to see if we are wise enough to listen to the howl of the wolf objectively and find creative ways of sharing the landscapes we both depend upon.

 

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COUGARS

Cougar attacks on humans are rare. There have been two incidents within Waterton Lakes National Park in the last decade where a child received minor injuries. Females with kittens and animals which are cornered, surprised or feeding on a kill may act aggressively. Cougars often show curiosity toward human activities without behaving aggressively.

Living in cougar country increases your chances of observing one of these fascinating predators. It also comes with some risks and responsibilities. Here are a few important guidelines to reduce the risk of human injury and help protect cougars by avoiding the stress of relocation or the need to destroy an animal.

  • Do not attract or feed wildlife, especially deer and sheep. They are natural prey and may attract a cougar.

  • Do not create attractive cover and feed for cougars or their prey. Trim shrubs and small trees around cabins to reduce density. Board up or fence decks, verandas and crawlspaces. Exotic plants, lush well-watered and fertilized lawns attract cougar prey.

  • Supervise children playing outdoors. Encourage them to play in groups and away from dense vegetation. Bring them in before dusk and keep them in before full daylight. Talk to them about how to avoid cougars and what to do if they encounter one.

  • Pets left unattended outside may be attacked by cougars. Keep pets leashed or kenneled. Bring pets in at night or place them in a secure kennel with a top.

  • Travel in a group and make noise to avoid surprising a cougar. Keep children close.
If you encounter a cougar at close range:
  • stay calm, the cat will probably go away.

  • Face the animal, retreat slowly, but do not run or "play dead".
  • immediately pick up small children; their small size and quick motions may encourage aggression.

  • Try to appear larger by holding your arms, or an object such as a stick, above your head.

  • Aggressive actions (shouting, waving a stick, throwing rocks) toward an approaching cougar have deterred attacks.

 

GRIZZLY BEARS

Management of a healthy population of grizzly bears in Waterton Lakes is complicated by their large territory requirements, their low reproductive rate, their defensive nature and an increase in backcountry use.

Most visitors never see a bear, but all of the park is bear country. Whether visitors plan to hike for days or simply sightsee for a few hours, it is important to take the time to learn about special precautions in bear country. While a negative encounter with a bear in the park is a possibility, statistically, waterfalls are more dangerous than bears.

Bears will usually move out of the way if they hear people approaching. Making noise is an effective strategy. Bells are not as useful as many people believe - talking loudly, clapping hands, and calling out are more effective. Sometimes trail conditions make it hard for bears to see, hear, or smell approaching hikers. Hikers should be particularly careful when hiking near a stream, against the wind, or in dense vegetation. A blind corner or a rise in the trail also requires special attention by hikers.

Watch for signs of bear activity - like tracks, torn up logs, trampled vegetation, droppings and overturned rocks. Bears spend a lot of time eating so avoid obvious feeding areas like berry patches, cow parsnip thickets, or fields of glacier lilies.

People should never intentionally get close to a bear. Individual bears will react differently so you can't predict their behaviour. A minimum safe distance is 150 to 300 metres (500 to 1000 ft), although there is no guarantee of your safety.

Here are a few suggestions when hiking in bear country:

  • Avoid hiking alone. Groups tend to make more noise than single hikers.

  • Make noise. Studies have shown the most effective sound is the human voice. Shouting out, talking or even singing will alert bears to your presence. Bear bells are not loud enough.

  • Keep dogs on a leash. Bears normally run from dogs, but if the chase continues, the bear may turn on the dog. The dog, now threatened, runs back to its owner for protection. If some owners disobey the leash regulation, dogs may no longer be allowed in the backcountry, as in Glacier National Park.

  • Avoid hiking at night. Lots of animals use trails as travel corridors. Bears are often on them at night, increasing your chances of meeting one. If you are on a trail at dawn, dusk or at night it is important to make more noise and carry a light.

  • Never leave food or packs unattended. A curious bear who is rewarded for its efforts becomes bolder with each passing day. This leads to problems for other hikers and eventually, death for the bear.

  • Learn all you can about bears. Every bear is different and depending on its previous experience with people will react in its own interest. Learn to identify a black bear from a grizzly bear and learn how to respond to each bear appropriately. Please read the pamphlet `You are in bear country' supplied by Parks Canada.
If you encounter a grizzly at close range:
  • Stay calm. Bears do not always charge. In fact, they quite often stand on their hind legs to test the wind and/or to get a better look. By talking quietly, you can let the bear know what you are and that you are not a threat.

  • Avoid direct eye contact. Bears consider this an aggressive act. Try to be as submissive as possible and retreat slowly away from the bear.

  • Do not run or make sudden movements. This may initiate an attack.

  • Play dead only in appropriate situations. Curl up in a ball - covering your face, neck and abdomen - only if attack is imminent, or if you are charged by a bear. Keep your pack on. It may protect your back and neck. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. A bear charges because it feels threatened. Studies indicate that those who fight grizzlies receive the worst injuries. Bears feel threatened if they are surprised at close range, if they have cubs or if they are on a food source. Do not play dead if the bear is looking for handouts.

  • If the bear walks toward you, showing curiosity, then slowly back away and drop items of clothing. The bear may stop to investigate, giving you time to retreat. "Bear spray" may come in handy in this situation. The cayenne pepper in these containers will irritate the eyes and lungs of bears, giving you time to retreat.

All encounters with bears should be reported to the Warden Service. The safety of others, and the bears themselves, may depend on it.

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waterton lakes green dot This site created by Waterton Park Information Services, in friendly Waterton Park, Alberta, Canada. If you have any problems or advice, Please e-mail us at WPIS