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More from the Banff wolf pack’s attack on the elk

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1575

The story of the Banff wolf pack’s takedown of the elk last Sunday begins for me where Banff Avenue goes under the Trans-Canada Highway.  I had spent some time along the Vermilion Lakes, then the Bow Valley Parkway and was heading for the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive.  At the stop sign I looked south for oncoming traffic and noticed movement up on the railway overpass.  Pulling off the road, I could see an elk from the shoulder up – the body blocked by the solid concrete side of the bridge.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting an elk - © Christopher Martin-1462

The elk took a couple of paces, doubled back and then repeated that a couple of times.  It seemed unusual behaviour so I trained my telephoto lens on her to have a better look.  When I did, I couldn’t make out anything unusual – until a wolf’s head came into view when it leaped up and bit the elk’s neck!

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1449

At that point, part of me was in amazement but the more important part got to work.  I ran up the small hill beside the bridge to get level with the animals.  As I did, I could see four wolves (although the pack has five members; I just don’t have one photograph with more than four but all five were likely there) surrounding the elk.  I did not see what led to the elk being on the bridge but suspect it was herded there by the wolves.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1603

Over the next seven minutes, the wolves alternated between attacking the animal and walling it in on the bridge.  Both the herding and the attacking suggested great intelligence and teamwork.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1605

The large male, likely the alpha, which primarily attacked the face and neck alternated initial lunges with the other wolves at the back.  Whoever went first would dodge and parry the increasingly weak counters by the elk while the others would bite viciously while her attention was distracted from them.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1493

When the elk would get closer to one of the ends of the bridge, the wolves would line up along the edge and force her back towards the middle.  During the struggle, she was pulled down twice and recovered her legs before being taken down for good by the alpha in a twisting move of immense power.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1608

The cold air, it was about -15°C at 10AM when I came across the attack, condensed the breath and the heat from the open wounds into steam that added to the poignancy of the scene.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1633

When the elk was down, the pack wasted no time in starting their feast.  They had about 45 minutes before the carcass was removed which gave the whole pack time to get at least one full meal down.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1760

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1781

Parks Canada has said that the elk was removed due to the location beside the tracks in the middle of the bridge and the danger that would pose to the wolves and the other animals the kill would attract.  I fully agree with that and hope the carcass is taken to a location where the pack can find it again whenever that decision makes sense.  I had hoped they might move the carcass to another location immediately but there are a number of factors involved in making those decisions.  I respect the Parks Canada people that follow these wolves on a daily basis and believe they will continue to make those calls with the best outcome for the wildlife.  I certainly appreciate their work getting the trains slowed down for a period of time after the attack and giving the wolves a decent amount of time before the elk was moved.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1832

I will post a few more images a little later but wanted to share the story as I saw it now.

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84 responses

  1. Excellent photo story, Chris. Jawdroppingly powerful documentation.

    January 15, 2017 at 5:33 am

  2. Tarah

    Just discovering this story. I can’t help but notice that the bridge in this case (which is unnatural and man made) played a part in this hunt and how it was used to trap the elk.

    January 9, 2017 at 5:51 am

  3. Mike Hohmann

    The wonder of nature, and the wild! Looks like you’ve captured a hungry crew and a lone, worried elk… but not for long. Great shots!

    April 27, 2016 at 10:51 pm

  4. Great story

    April 26, 2016 at 8:40 am

  5. Pingback: This Elk Never Stood A Chance Against A Wolf Pack Near Banff | Hirvikota

  6. Very Nice Photos, You Very Good Photography

    March 16, 2016 at 9:28 pm

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  8. Pingback: A big, beautiful black wolf | Christopher Martin Photography

  9. Wow, talk about right time, right place! Skillfully captured as well, graphically represented but not overly so. The effect the temperature added is probably a once-in-a-lifetime event (well, it is Canada, so maybe not, lol). Thank you for allowing us a peek over your shoulder at an inspiring and sobering moment in the circle of life.

    March 9, 2016 at 6:20 am

  10. Pingback: » Photos: Wolf Pack Takes Down Elk on Overpass in Banff

  11. Absolutely stunning pictures! I can’t believe you were able to witness this!

    March 2, 2016 at 10:05 am

  12. That was an amazing sequence. Thank you for sharing. I live in very urban Oakland, CA so I can’t even imagine a scene like this in town. Is this a very populated area? Are the wolves often roaming in town? Do they ever get hit by cars? And what kind of bridge was that? You mentioned tracks…

    March 1, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    • Hi Jeannette,

      Banff is a town in the Banff National Park with ~8000 people. The wolves very rarely come into the outskirts of town – they do not roam there often more when they are transiting to another part of the valley. This bridge is a railway overpass that is about 1-1.5 miles outside of the town. It is rare for the wolves to get hit by cars but it has happened.

      Cheers,

      Chris

      March 2, 2016 at 7:19 am

  13. Pingback: Pie N Politics » Photos: Banff Wolf Pack Drags down Elk on Overpass

  14. Ole Hansen

    Thank you the story, and amazing pictures!

    March 1, 2016 at 11:49 am

  15. Pingback: Photos: Banff Wolf Pack Drags down Elk on Overpass | Official Web News

  16. I would have done the same thing. What a scene! I love the shot of the elk looking over the railing, and on the underside of the bridge is a bunch of cameras.

    February 29, 2016 at 12:39 pm

  17. Wow, I am amazed at this series of photos and the scene you witnessed… Seeing this in the wild would be something else, but to have it happen at the crossroads between the wild & modernity, simply amazing. Your shots show the essence of nature so cleanly ~ and the intelligence of a wolf pack. Wonderful series of photos and discussion.

    February 28, 2016 at 7:15 pm

  18. That is the nature…but sad to see :`(

    February 28, 2016 at 3:57 am

  19. Stunning photography!

    February 27, 2016 at 1:53 pm

  20. Pingback: Wolf Attack (Photos by Christopher Martin) | 106.5 Mountain FM

  21. cris axtell

    fantastic pics. But wolves have no business being that close to a town. You won’t think there so cool when they eat fluffy or attack your children.

    February 27, 2016 at 9:39 am

    • Brenda Clayton

      We are the intruders to nature, especially as our towns and cities expand…not them to us. We need to learn to live with them.

      February 27, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    • Dave Moon

      Wolves don’t attack people. There has not been a verified incidence of a wolf attacking a person.

      February 28, 2016 at 10:06 am

      • Tim

        Really? At Points North Landing in Saskatchewan about 10 years ago a guy was killed and partially eaten by wolves. I guess that puts your theory in the fail column.

        February 29, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    • Tim

      If you live in a National Park you have to accept that the wildlife are free to roam wherever they want. Keep fluffy inside and don’t let your kids wander around unless you want them to be part of the food chain.

      February 29, 2016 at 3:15 pm

  22. An amazing documentary on a kill. I have heard of this ability for wolves to work as a team

    February 27, 2016 at 12:40 am

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  24. Thank you so much for showing this. The vegans should go wild. Humans do have the ability to eat meat and kill swiftly without pain. Anyways, sure you heard on facebook today that JonBenet Ramsey is singer Katy Perry. Well, she’s not, and here’s why. https://thehumblejewishman.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/dave-johnson-is-nominated-for-junglesurfer-list-as-biggest-shill-of-2016/

    February 26, 2016 at 5:30 pm

  25. Pingback: Banff Overpass Wolf Attack on Female Elk Caught On Camera k | The Wolf Intelligencer

  26. Nicely photographed, but I feel sorry for the deer, why can not the wolves make a quick end to the suffering.

    February 26, 2016 at 11:08 am

    • photobc

      They obviously want to kill it as quick as they can but they don’t want to endanger themselves in the process. This is nature at work and a lot of animals do not die peacefully in bed.

      February 26, 2016 at 12:55 pm

  27. Dave Forbes

    Just awesome! Great pictures and descriptive narration. I do have one question though, What were the sounds like?? Did the wolves bark/growl in the process….did the elk “cry out” at all, or were the sounds subdued?

    February 26, 2016 at 10:56 am

    • It was very quiet. I was surprised by that – very few growls that I could hear from 100-150m away and no cries from the elk.

      February 26, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      • tracy ryder

        Just amazing. Thank you for the experience.

        February 26, 2016 at 9:43 pm

  28. Anonymous

    Wild animals doing what wild animals do every day. Amazing pictures, thanks for taking the time to record something most will never witness.

    February 26, 2016 at 10:40 am

  29. Anonymous

    Wow. Gripping story. I love the photos, makes me feel like I was right there. Well done and thanks for sharing.

    February 26, 2016 at 7:26 am

  30. Powerful as has been said, but also I truly appreciate the blog format, instead of simply giving us a gallery of images! Nature is always telling us a story – so thanks for depicting it here… and that it happened there vs. out in the trees is cool and scary at the same time for Banff!

    February 26, 2016 at 6:54 am

  31. Renee

    Just curious, what is it I’m seeing behind the wolves in the third- and second-last photos? Is that a train going by?? Incredible photos, Mr. Martin!

    February 26, 2016 at 6:42 am

  32. Pingback: Banff wolf pack takes down elk on railway overpass and photographer captures it all – Calgary | TimeOutPk - Banff wolf pack takes down elk on railway overpass and photographer captures it all - Calgary

  33. Gord Cumming

    Gorgeous photos of nature in the raw. You were so lucky to be in the right place at the right time! So many times I have headed under that bridge going to see if we could find wildlife in the Lake Minnewanka area. Great job at getting the shots and describing the scenes – a rare treat to witness the incredible precision of a Wolf pack in action.

    February 25, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    • Thank you Gord. It was very lucky and an incredible encounter to witness.

      February 25, 2016 at 11:58 pm

  34. Anonymous

    You shld have saved the elk

    February 25, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    • I wouldn’t interfere for any reason. I do not feel that I should have done anything different.

      February 25, 2016 at 11:57 pm

      • Photographers should just capture these kind of natural take downs between two wild animals. This sort of thing happens daily in the wild you did the right thing by it run it’s course. Great pic by the way.

        February 26, 2016 at 8:25 am

      • Anonymous

        As a nature photographer I agree. We record nature in it’s beautiful and not so beautiful moments, but we are there to capture nature not interfere with it. Besides what could you do? Run over there and try to chase 5 100lb hungry wolves away from their meal? You would just become the appetizer.

        February 29, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    • Dale

      And let 5 wolves starve? The area is full of elk

      February 26, 2016 at 9:11 am

    • Dylan

      So the wolves could starve? just let nature take its course

      February 26, 2016 at 10:12 am

    • Anonymous

      Yes they should have. I would have . Poor Elk. And she is pregnant this time of year. Sad

      February 27, 2016 at 3:10 pm

  35. Nature at it’s finest moment, yet worst. Thank you. The wolves must eat,..and no one is putting a bowl of food down for them each & every day… all of them are gorgeous creatures.

    February 25, 2016 at 6:23 pm

  36. TMB

    Great respect for how this story was shared and for the decision makers involved in wildlife management.

    February 25, 2016 at 1:29 pm

  37. Virgil Trout

    I find it difficult to express my appreciation of your photo work,your attitude and the attitude of those who commented on a very sensitive subject where I spend much time — Montana / Alaska. Your comment ” As I saw it now,” very, very good. My comment,”You can learn a lot from a WOLF!” Hope to see you in Banff on my way to Alaska next mo.

    February 25, 2016 at 12:59 pm

  38. e-leet sir

    February 25, 2016 at 12:49 pm

  39. An amazing documentary on a kill. I have heard of this ability for wolves to work as a team. I sympathize with the elk but nature is what it is.

    February 25, 2016 at 12:11 pm

  40. Wow! Amazing thank you for sharing. What a powerful experience that must have been.

    February 25, 2016 at 8:25 am

  41. Pingback: Banff wolf pack caught on camera taking down elk - ADTAVITA.com | Techno Sport News

  42. Pingback: Banff wolf pack caught on camera taking down elk - Daily Time

  43. Survival of the fittest in action and pity on the poor victim.

    February 25, 2016 at 6:37 am

  44. Pingback: Banff wolf pack caught on camera taking down elk

  45. Your photographs are always a blessing because they are a flash of everything that is inspiring about nature. Grateful.

    February 24, 2016 at 10:38 pm

  46. Chris

    Fantastic! Thank you for sharing these pictures of nature/life that we rarely see. I only hope that this pack moves away from the town.
    Watching these magnificent creatures in action must of been a personal highlight!

    February 24, 2016 at 10:21 pm

  47. Mick

    Beautiful we get to see these animals how they are without human interference and making it “better” nature know its own course. Thanks for making these pictures and sharing these without bias; true photography

    February 24, 2016 at 10:02 pm

  48. Interesting story. Thanks for observing and photographing the hunt. Also interesting to hear about how Parks Canada intervenes in such situations. Do you know if coyotes hunt in packs the same way?

    February 24, 2016 at 9:39 pm

  49. William

    Amazing pictures Chris, Just how far back were you? Between the off ramps or closer?

    February 24, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    • Hi William – thank you! I was on the rise beside the the west edge of the bridge. About 150m from the wolves.

      February 24, 2016 at 9:40 pm

  50. William

    Awesome pictures, thanks for sharing. Just how far away were you? Between the 2 exits from the TC?
    That black one looks to have a radio tracking device strapped to his neck

    February 24, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    • I think two of them are collared. Parks were telling me that they have alternate “on” times to stretch the battery life out.

      February 24, 2016 at 9:41 pm

  51. Wow. Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos with us.

    February 24, 2016 at 6:22 pm

  52. Pingback: More from the Banff wolf pack’s attack on the elk | sekedar tulisan

  53. Amazing pictures! The brutal, beautiful process of nature taking its course even in the midst of human footprints on the landscape everywhere! How cool that you got that close to nature in action!!

    February 24, 2016 at 4:37 pm

  54. Seeing the Wolves’ teamwork in action would likely be the best part and you got a ringside seat!

    February 24, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    • You would have loved it Lyle – you are absolutely correct that was one of the best parts.

      February 24, 2016 at 7:55 pm

  55. Amazing experience thanks for sharing

    February 24, 2016 at 3:12 pm

  56. What an incredible capture, for everyone. Very powerful.

    February 24, 2016 at 2:49 pm

  57. janvdijk9464

    Reblogged this on janencarinvandijk and commented:
    mooie foto serie

    February 24, 2016 at 2:22 pm

  58. janvdijk9464

    ja heel mooie foto ja een dier is altijd eerlijk heel mooi repotage

    February 24, 2016 at 2:21 pm

  59. Coincidentally, we just watched: How Wolves Change Rivers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q

    ​Love your photos !​ ​ ~~ Steve Stephen R Elliott ​

    srElliott0@Gmail.com La Antigua Guatemala ​

    On Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 1:58 PM, Christopher Martin Photography wrote:

    > Christopher Martin posted: ” The story of the Banff wolf pack’s takedown > of the elk last Sunday begins for me where Banff Avenue goes under the > Trans-Canada Highway. I had spent some time along the Vermilion Lakes, > then the Bow Valley Parkway and was heading for the Lake Minnewa” >

    February 24, 2016 at 2:19 pm

  60. Incredible images. Good on you for stopping to capture these.

    February 24, 2016 at 2:09 pm

  61. What amazingly powerful images! Well done.

    February 24, 2016 at 1:35 pm

  62. Excellent images … in particular the penultimate one of the lone wolf facing the camera.

    February 24, 2016 at 1:28 pm

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