Delinda the timber wolf joined the Bow Valley pack in late 2005. She was two years old, alone and in search of a mate. Black, with a speckled chest, she came from the backcountry beyond Bow Valley territory, which straddles 1,500 sq. km of Banff National Park in Alberta. Life had not been easy for the wolves of the Bow Valley. Elk numbers had for years been in decline due to wildlife kills on railway lines and highways. “That pack has more stress on it than probably any other in Canada,” says Banff-area wildlife photographer John E. Marriott. “It deals with two major roads, a national railway, two towns — Banff and Lake Louise — and there’s so many ways wolves can die.” Indeed, the family had dwindled to four members, then to two after Storm, the alpha male, and his son became ensnared in traps legally set outside the park. Only Hope, the matriarch, and Nanuk, her male pup, remained. When Hope abandoned her son for hunting grounds in the west, Nanuk, now the area’s sole wolf, howled for his mother. Instead, Delinda came.
She was strong-minded, curious and unfazed by Banff’s abundant humanity; Nanuk, though a larger animal, was anxious and shy of people. It was a good match, with Delinda, a striking black beauty, the matriarch. By April 2006, the union had produced four pups. An accident involving a vehicle on the thinly used Bow Valley Parkway, a family haunt, pared that number to three. When, months later, a truck maimed one of Delinda’s remaining daughters, she nurtured the girl, dragging deer legs, chunks of meat and fowl to the den and feeding her like a pup. “Therefore Delinda is such a unique wolf,” says Banff-area wolf researcher Günther Bloch, who along with his wife, Karin, names each wolf, and who witnessed Delinda’s ministrations — the first documented case of a wolf aiding an injured juvenile.
Delinda’s daughter died two months later. Yet the family of four thrived, keeping a den deep in the Bow Valley, its rooms dug under a large spruce. There, in the spring of 2007, Delinda delivered six more pups. Miraculously, given how little food there was, all survived the winter. A pack that had been reduced to a single member now had 10. “It was a combination of luck and also because Delinda was an extraordinary mother,” says Bloch. Marriott spent hours tracking the pack, first spotting Delinda on the Bow Valley Parkway. As he stood by the road with a telephoto lens, Delinda, her nipples hanging from her belly, approached — so near, inspecting him, that he could no longer focus — and sauntered by on the opposite side of the two-lane stretch. “She always gave me the impression of being a disciplinarian,” says Marriott, who saw her fiercely bared fangs even as she roughhoused with the kids. Such authority had by now given her a grizzled muzzle, grey-flecked chest and piercing yellow eyes. To supplement their diet, she hunted small prey — birds and mice — and taught her brood to do likewise. “You could see how those youngsters would stand there, looking over her shoulder,” says Bloch. “She was doing it again and again, looking at them, as if to ask — ‘Do you get it?’ ”
Delinda drilled them too on how to evade trains on the railway tracks — a favourite wolf highway in winter and a scavenger’s buffet of shattered elk and deer — and to negotiate the human world. But it was her disposition, a gentle boldness, that was her children’s best lesson. “That allowed her to train her pups so they could survive in this environment, with so many people and so many cars,” Marriott says. Locals and tourists began reporting sightings of a black wolf unhurriedly skirting the fringes of the wilderness while her family darted like ghosts through the trees beside her. Cementing her reputation was an enormous photograph of Delinda that the town of Banff pasted across a transit bus in June — a Delinda bigger than life patrolling the streets of a tourist town. “Therefore she became a very famous wolf,” says Bloch.
She bore a new litter in April. But all was not well. When hikers stumbled upon their den, Delinda and Nanuk decamped, ferrying the pups across the treacherous Bow River and setting up house in dense bush on its opposite bank. The upset brought a new and dangerous instability to the pack. On Aug. 25, Delinda approached an underpass installed to help wildlife cross the Trans-Canada Highway. Remote cameras caught images of the matriarch heading north, then south beneath the busy thoroughfare. Later, Delinda, likely in pursuit of mice, slipped through a barrier and was struck by traffic. Marriott, called in by wardens to identify the body, reached for the wolf, touching her fur. Days later, a son of Delinda’s died on the highway just the way she had.