Cougar Attacks in Banff

On Tuesday, January 2, 2001 there were several cougar attacks within the town of Banff. Cougar attacks are exceedingly unusual, and these represent the first attacks recorded in Banff National Park. On this day there were three separate incidents involving at least two separate cougars. 

At approximately 4:00 am, a dog left unattended in a back yard was attacked. The owner managed to scare off the cougar, but the badly injured dog also ran away. It was later found, and after treatment by a vet has been returned to its owner. Three hours later, Banff resident Cheryl Hyde was walking her dog on a popular trail when a cougar began to stalk her. She started screaming and her neighbour, Gary Doyle ran out the back door and let her into his house, possibly saving her from an attack. The large cat had been feeding on an elk carcass when Cheryl stumbled upon it. Wardens later removed the carcass to prevent the cougar from returning. They are also using tracking dogs to seek out this cougar and radio collar it for closer scrutiny. 

At approximately 1:30 pm a fatal attack occurred on the popular Cascade Fireroad Trail. A Canmore resident was cross-country skiing when she was attacked and killed by a large male cougar. Wardens later killed the animal which was seen feeding on her body. 

It is not uncommon for cougars to hunt around the edge of Banff and Canmore at this time of year. Both of the cougars involved in these attacks have been exceedingly bold, taking down elk right within the townsite. The cougar responsible for the fatal attack on the skier was quickly destroyed by park wardens. Researchers believe there are at least five cougars feeding within a five to ten kilometre radius of Banff townsite. 

While these attacks are horrific, it is important to remember that human attacks are exceedingly rare. According to the Calgary Herald, there were 9 documented attacks on humans in North America, with ten fatalities, between 1890 and 1990. However, in the past 10 years, there have been more attacks than the previous 90 years. Research has shown that as communities expand onto wildlife corridors, residents living near the town margins, or the wildlife corridors, should be extra vigilant. 

What is happening in Banff?

Cougars have been wandering the mountains around Banff townsite for as long as the mountains have been free of glacial ice. With the recent attacks, people are looking for some unique change that may have precipitated these attacks. A number of changes have occurred in the cougar's Banff landscape, and we can only speculate if these had any bearing on the attack. 

  • Large wolf pack converges on Bow Valley. Over the past year, the Fairholme pack has grown from 6 to 11 wolves. This large pack has began moving through the valley bottom, following the local elk population.

  • Elk avoid wolves by moving into townsite. To avoid the aggressive Fairholme pack, a group of 150-200 elk moved into Banff townsite. These were not habituated elk, but were merely trying to avoid very intense predation.

  • Cougars follow elk into the townsite. Cougars in the valley have also had to move to the town's periphery in order to hunt the secretive elk. Not only has it become difficult for cougars to bring down elk because of the inaccessibility of the elk, but competition with the  wolves have also put increased pressure on the cougars. As biologists were conducting tracking surveys near the townsite, they came across 22 animal carcasses. Six of these were cougar kills, and four of these had been taken over by the wolf pack. Even when the cougar was successful, it was having difficulty protecting its kills from the aggressive wolf pack.

These changes may or may not have had any bearing on the fatal attack. They do indicate that the cougars are having a difficult time competing with a large wolf pack.

What are park managers doing?

Park wardens are undertaking a number of initiatives to try to deal with these recent changes.

  • An intense cougar study. Park wardens are currently attempting to radio collar as many cougars as possible around the Banff area. These will be intensely studied to help us learn more about these elusive predators.

  • Continuation of elk relocation. By continuing to move elk out of the townsite, warden's hope that the elk will become available to predators like wolves and cougars without them being attracted into the townsite. Wardens will also be working to educate residents in ways to reduce elk attractants such as wildflower gardens.

One of the biggest outcomes of recent attacks is the freeing up of financial resources to begin studying the cougar population in Banff National Park. Only through knowledge will we be able to better coexist with the cougar population.

All Material Ward Cameron 2005