LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — An avalanche has wiped out most of a tiny herd of rare woodland caribou in Banff National Park.
Parks Canada officials believe the snow slide occurred about two weeks ago at Molar Creek north of Lake Louise and killed at least two adult female caribou and another younger female.
Hoof tracks suggest two animals — a young buck and another caribou of unknown gender — survived, said Parks Canada spokeswoman Michelle Macullo.
The loss of the females raises reproductive questions for the park animals, which are considered an at-risk species in Alberta and British Columbia, she said.
“The herd numbered as few as five. We don’t have a very big herd,” said Macullo.
“It’s terrible news. We’re absolutely heartbroken.”
The only small consolation, she said, is that the animals died of natural causes.
The dead animals were discovered Tuesday. The two adult females were wearing radio collars that failed to send a mortality signal. Conservation officers were alerted to their deaths when a wolverine was spotted digging through snow to reach the carcasses.
About two decades ago, the Banff herd numbered 30 while the animals reached well over 100 in Jasper National Park.
But their population has steadily shrunk due to habitat loss.