I’d never really thought about it, but I guess the guide driving our tour bus up the steep hill to Mount Norquay in Banff National Park was right. It’s a tough life for the poor old male elk. He has to do an awful lot of mating in his lifetime before he finally keels over.
The females generally live longer than the guys, the Discover Banff Tours guide explained during our two-hour Evening Wildlife Safari. Elk can live 10 to 20 years, but the females generally outpace the males. The mature bulls fight with their antlers to establish supremacy during the fall mating season called the rut. Over the years, these fights take their toll.
It’s just one of many fascinating facts we learned during the tour that starts in the town of Banff. This safari is a must-do for wildlife lovers who want to soak up local knowledge.
Watch for Wildlife in Comfort
I raised the binoculars provided to me on this fine summer evening. At this time of year there are up to 16 hours of daylight, so we could see everything easily. There was a stirring out there amidst the pines. Was it an old bull elk or just some tired middle-aged guy like me, staggering into the forest for a final rest? No, tonight it was just the mountain wind.
My father, in his late 70s, was visiting from Florida on another of his bucket list tours. His retirement condo sits high atop oceanfront jungle but he was awed by the towering Canadian Rocky Mountains. As the 24-seat bus climbed, I pointed out a mountain goat scrambling up a sheer cliff face. Dad snapped a quick photo, one of many we’d take of wildlife and scenery.
Our guide had been living in Banff for years so we saw the park from her local perspective. She even gave us tips on where to explore shops, galleries and eateries in Banff (try Bear Avenue).
The tour follows various routes and traditionally runs from mid-April to mid-October. It can get a bit chilly at higher elevations even during summer, so we each brought sweaters for getting out of the bus.
Animals Protected in Habitats
During the tour we saw elk so close we could see the velvet on their antlers, a soaring osprey, another remarkably nimble mountain goat, mule deer, a Columbian ground squirrel and a few bighorn sheep. We learned some of the many ways that Banff National Park officials help protect animals and their habitats. Did you know the park has built dozens of natural looking wildlife crossings that rise up and over the Trans-Canada Highway so animals can freely forage? And that all of the highway running through the park is now fenced off on both sides? Our guide says it has drastically reduced the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions.
The bus stops occasionally so everyone can stretch their legs and take photos. A Mount Norquay observation point provided sweeping views of the Bow and Spray valleys. My father used his camera’s panorama setting for a memorable photo of us. Two ageing males looking into the future, the wild life behind us but still open to adventures – and nowhere close to keeling over.