Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Survival In The Bow Valley

Hello everyone,

I wanted to share this story with you as it is one of the best wolf encounters I've been lucky enough to have. The story took place in April last year when I was living in the Canadian Rockies. It appeared in Banff's local newspaper and was my first published article as a wildlife photographer. 

I hope you enjoy it...

The Bow Valley, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The Canadian Rockies draw people from all corners of the planet, to enjoy the numerous activities they have to offer. Whether it’s the skiing and snowboarding in winter, or the year round beauty of the national parks, there will always be people here. But we are not alone. We share this valley with some of the worlds most amazing wildlife. While most valley residents are able to see animals like deer and elk walking around town or grazing in our gardens, only a small percentage of us are lucky enough to encounter some of the rarer animals that live in the park.
I came to Banff nearly two years ago, with the intentions of finding and photographing some of these magnificent creatures.
A few weeks ago, I was out early in the morning looking for my first bear of the season. After a few hours of driving around without any luck, I spotted a cow moose standing in the middle of the Bow River.
She was pacing back and forth in the deep water, and it was clear to me that something had spooked her. Taking a closer look, I noticed that she was badly injured. One of her back legs had skin torn from it and was bleeding profusely. There were also some smaller injuries around her chest and fore legs, consistent with an attack by wolves. I spoke with a local man who claimed he had seen several wolves in the area about 30 minutes before I arrived on the scene. A blood trail along the road, led to a small clearing about a kilometer away where the initial attack took place.

The cow moose retreats to the safety of the Bow River - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Thinking that the wolves would return again, I spent the next few days watching the moose to see what might happen, staying at a distance so as not to cause her any unnecessary stress. The morning after the attack, I found her in the middle of the river again, and there were fresh tracks along the snow on the banks. The wolves had returned during the night but the deep water had once again provided some safety for the moose.
She spent the next few days lying on the bank of the river, retreating to the water whenever a coyote walked by or she felt threatened by something. Finally, five days after she was first attacked, the wolves returned. The moose was back in the river instantly while three of the wolves watched her from the bank.

'Spirit' sniffs along the riverbank to locate the moose, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
'Spirit' follows the injured moose along the riverbank, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
'Spirit' and daughter 'Blizzard' watch the moose from the icy riverbank, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

The stand-off  lasted about 15 minutes until eventually the wolves vanished into the trees. When they reappeared, the moose was standing in slightly shallower water. ‘Spirit’, the alpha male of the pack, saw an opportunity to try and get the moose to run again so that the others could begin another attack. He paced along the bank a few times and then went charging into the river. 

'Spirit', the alpha-male, charges into the river after the moose, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

The moose ran only a few meters and then turned to face him, standing her ground. This put a stop to the charge immediately and Spirit quickly returned to the safety of the river bank. He was recently kicked by a moose during an attack and was unable to stand for two days! This lesson has clearly taught him to be more careful of these huge animals. Even when injured, they are still capable of delivering a fatal kick.

'Spirit' stares at me as he walks along the ice of the riverbank, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Eventually the wolves left once more and for two more days nothing happened. After an entire week of watching and waiting, I decided to take a morning off to catch up on some sleep. That morning, a grizzly bear showed up. I watched footage of the bear chasing the moose across the river and into the trees. Even though her injuries were causing her to limp badly, when the adrenalin kicked in, she ran like the wind! She reappeared further downstream and shortly afterwards, the bear emerged looking confused and sniffing around for clues as to where she had gone. For the first time in eight days she was nowhere to be found.
I began to think that she was gone from sight for good or that she had been killed elsewhere, but to my surprise I spotted her again over a week later in exactly the same spot in the river, still limping very badly. It can sometimes take a pack of wolves several weeks to take down a moose so it looks like they might still win this ongoing battle. However, we may never know how it ends.
This is just one of many interesting tales about the daily fight for survival facing wildlife here in the Bow Valley.

I'm hoping to photograph the Bow Valley wolves again this year when I return to live in the Rockies.

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Thank you for reading!


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