Humans cause collapse of pack

Fabulous photos and the latest scientific information are married beautifully in John Marriott’s new book

The Pipestone family in 2011. Faith and Spirit are the two alpha wolves in the middle leading the pack through the meadow. 

The Pipestone family in 2011. Faith and Spirit are the two alpha wolves in the middle leading the pack through the meadow. 

Fabulous photos and the latest scientific information are married beautifully in John Marriott’s new book, The Pipestone Wolves: The Rise and Fall of a Wolf Family.

Marriott, who started photographing wolves seriously in 2007, spent 150 to 200 days a year following wolves around, in particular, a pack that lived between Banff and Lake Louise.

I was tracking from 2009 to 2012, trying to find them and taking photos when I could, being out there regardless of weather conditions together with canid (wolf) expert Gunther Bloch, who wrote the book.”

Marriott says Bloch spent about 330 days of the year following the wolf pack.

“I would sometimes tag along and sometimes be on my own; we just tried to learn as much as we possibly could about the wolves living in Banff National Park.”

Marriott says the book is about the rise and fall of the family he and Bloch called the Pipestones.

“The Pipestone River is where we believe they originated, from the Pipestone Valley north of Lake Louise,”  he says. “They came into the Bow Valley and literally took over from the Bow Valley wolf pack that Gunther and I had been following.”

Like a military coup, the newcomers destroyed the resident pack and took over. It’s one of the ways they self-regulate the population.

For three years, the pack was at the top of its game and Marriott and Bloch gave individual wolves names. But, at the beginning of 2013, the pack started to fall apart.

“The pack was impacted heavily by tourists – too many people trying to see them and photograph them,” says Marriott. “I actually stopped photographing them after July 2012 because we could see what was going – too many people going out looking for them, putting too much pressure on them.”

The final Pipestone wolf was last seen in February 2015.

Marriott says the book is about wolves but looks at how all wildlife needs to be treated.

“Everyone thinks they’re perfect in protected areas where wildlife can thrive, but  that’s just not true, Marriott says of the notion wildlife thrives in provincial parks.

The end of the book deals with a new pack, called the Banff Town Pack that arrived as the Pipestones were completely disappearing

This pack was successful in expanding its population, welcoming three pups last year and six more this year.

“But now comes all the bad news: this summer, the alpha female was killed, four of the pups have died already on the railway tracks and the rest of the pack is in dire trouble,” he says. “Their alpha male got hit by a vehicle last week.”

While the wolf was alive as of last Thursday, Marriott says the pack is unravelling at the core, having lost five of 11 members of the pack in the past month – every one involving human activity.

“Chances are he will make it, but there are all sorts of other things happening; one of them found garbage at a campground in Johnston Canyon and just as a fed bear is dead bear, we’re now saying the exact same thing about wolves.”

Every day, the wolves are getting into human conflicts in what Marriott calls a  repeating pattern of what has been detailed in the book.

“One of the things that has always fascinated me about wolves is how difficult it is to see and photograph them, they are a much more elusive creature,” says the talented photographer who developed his love of wildlife growing up in Salmon Arm. “You can’t let them see, smell our hear you. You have to have all of your senses and wits firing at 100 per cent, fully engaged and using every trick of the trade to photograph them.”

Marriott says wolves work very much as a team and a family; they play a lot, particularly when food is plentiful.

“They’re very playful, even the adults, they’re very affectionate, always cuddling and touching noses,” he says. ”In one of the interesting stories in the book, Gunther talks about a wolf being hit by a train. The  other wolves brought food to it until its leg healed and it could move on with the pack.  It shows wolves have empathy, a human-like emotion.”

Marriott says the book contains other stories with a decided wow factor.

This is Marriott’s fifth book. Three of the first four have been Canadian bestsellers and Bloch, a well-known author in his native Germany, has written 40 books in German, including a number of international bestsellers.

The book is available at Bookingham Palace, where the first batch sold out very quickly.


Salmon Arm Observer