The amount of Elk in Banff National Park’s Bow Valley continues to decline. 171 Elk were counted last fall which is down from a recent high of 267 in 2018. The count takes place annually in the Bow River valley from Castle Junction to the park’s eastern boundary.
Wildlife experts from Parks Canada say that carnivores such as wolves and cougars have continued to afflict the population for the past five years, and natural bacterial disease has killed some individuals as well. Although Parks is monitoring the situation they do not believe it is a problem at this time.
The smallest Elk count since the fall count began in 1985 was 128 in 2002, shortly after Parks Canada had detained and removed Elk from the town as part of a comprehensive management strategy to reduce individual attacks and aggressive encounters, as well as restore the natural ecosystem, which was disrupted by the abundance of Elk in the small area.
The Bow Valley wolf pack has been feasting on the Elk around town, where most Elk hang out to seek shelter from carnivores. Although the herd has been around for a long time, the wolf’s habits have apparently changed over the past five years, including traveling into areas closer to the town which may be contributing to fewer elk. In addition, a bacterial disease has been discovered that has killed several Elk in the last two years.
Parks Canada has documented a total of 36 known Elk deaths in 2021, but these are only the bodies that have been found or reported. In 2021, the two biggest causes of death were wolves and cougars.