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ai generated image of a cow elk with her baby grazing in a field of grass with a forest and mountains in the background

Brave Cow Elk Takes on Hikers and Cyclist

Hikers and a cyclist were charged by a cow elk protecting her newborn in Banff National Park, as calving season is in full swing

Two hikers and a cyclist got the ‘surprise’ of a lifetime near Surprise Corner in Banff National Park last week. They were charged by a protective cow elk. It’s a sign that the elk calving season is in full swing!

From now until the end of June, cow elk like to stay closer to the Banff townsite because it’s a safe place for their babies. They want to avoid predators like wolves, cougars, and bears during this time.

Thankfully, nobody got hurt during the charging incidents. The baby elk, who was just a week old, was moved to a closed area on Tunnel Mountain.

This was done to keep everyone safe and give the elk family some peace and security.

a elk calf hidden in a bush looking at the camera with white spots in its body
An elk calf hidden in a bush while the rest of the herd feeds in a nearby meadow | Owen Slater Photography

“We did what we call a grab-and-go where we basically will remove the calf,” Mike Grande, resource management officer for Banff National Park, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

“We had a closed area up on Tunnel Mountain that we could move the calf into and then reunite the cow with the calf, and all was well,” continued Grande.

The west slope of Tunnel Mountain, near the Tunnel Mountain Trail, has been closed since May 15 because it’s an important area for elk calving. It will reopen on June 30. Not many people go there, so it’s perfect for elk to have their babies.

Elk may look tame when they’re in town, on the golf course, trails, or playing in fields, but they can be quite feisty when it comes to protecting their babies.

To defend their calves, cow elk might charge at people or kick with their sharp hooves.

Baby elk can stand up within 30 minutes to an hour after being born, but for the first few weeks of its life, it’s still defenceless against predators.

That’s why cow elk hide their babies in bushes and stay close by to keep them safe. But calves in bushes aren’t exactly easy to spot.

“The cows will drop their calves, and they’ll stash them in the grass, and the females will wander off at a distance grazing and feeding,” said Grande.

“Someone may accidentally walk between them and the calf, and the cow will see that as a threat and come charging in,” he explains.

Predators On The Prowl

Cow elk also lick their babies clean to prevent wolves, bears, or cougars from picking up on their scent. Speaking of bears, they are now out of hibernation and are on the prowl in Banff. 

Bears might try to hunt elk babies and deer fawns near the edges of the Banff townsite. Right now, there are mostly black bears around town. 

a closeup shot of the grizzly bear split lip showcasing his signature scar on his lip
Split Lip, one of the largest and most famous grizzly bears in Banff National Park | John E. Marriott | Bow Valley Network

According to Grande, there could be up to 12 different bears between Castle Junction and Tunnel Mountain. The wildlife team has had to scare away some black bears, including one near the Tunnel Mountain campground.

“It was quite skittish and basically took off without almost any hazing…Just an officer presence was enough to get him out of there,” said Grande.

Grizzly bears are also out and about. The biggest and most famous bear, known as The Boss, has been hanging out further west. Another famous bear, Split Lip, has been keeping a low profile.

There was a reported sighting, but it was too blurry to confirm if it was him. You don’t want to get on either of these bears’ bad side. 

We haven’t spotted any wolf pups from the Bow Valley wolf pack yet. They’re probably still cozy in their dens, but the pack currently has at least five members.

However, the team did catch them feasting on an elk carcass along Carrot Creek. The wildlife team had to remove the carcass because it was in a spot where everyone could see it from the highway.

They didn’t want people getting too close, so they had to make sure it was gone. Parks Canada wants to remind everyone to travel in groups, pay close attention to any signs of wildlife, and carry bear spray.

Last but not least, keep your dog on a leash. Dogs are known to agitate wildlife, including elk and bears. 

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