Book 'Em, Danno (and Mind Those Antlers)

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Dispatches, February 1999


Book 'Em, Danno (and Mind Those Antlers)
In Banff, an unusual APB: suspect last seen on the 18th green

By Jake Brooks

"We fertilize the grass, and we let them eat it," says Don Howe, president of Banff Springs Golf Club. "They've got a pretty good deal." He is referring to the dense herds of elk that have been treating this Alberta town as a predator-free health spa for more than 25 years. Recently, however, the town's 500 pampered herbivores have been shunning benign pastimes such as munching on people's lawns in favor of behavior more typically associated with biker gangs. During the past year, Banff's elk have been cited for 70 "aggressive incidents" in which they bruised, bullied, or terrorized their human neighbors. "It's just a matter of time before they kill someone," says Laird Elliott, whose son Luke, 3, was trampled by a cow in his backyard (he sustained no serious injuries).

Much of the action has centered around the Banff Springs Hotel golf course, whose lush greens have hosted a number of confrontations such as the one in which retired businessman Rob Crosby found himself in a standoff with a bull on the 18th fairway. ("He threatened me with his antlers, so I threatened him with my five wood," recalls Crosby, 77, who backed away, continued the hole, and wound up with a bogey.)

This winter, authorities have decided to fight back. Their brainstorm? Closing the golf course to humans and seeding it with roadkill in the hopes of luring a pack of wolves from surrounding Banff National Park — a herd-culling plan that has some residents wondering who's really at the top of the food chain. "This," says Mike McIvor, president of a local conservation organization, "is ridiculous."

H O R N E D   A N D   D A N G E R O U S

Unsportsmanlike Conduct
While jogging last May, physical therapist Judy Loretan was charged by an irate cow that chased her until she fell — fracturing her shoulder and knocking herself unconscious. Less magnanimous individuals might consider this an actionable offense, but Loretan says her stalker won't be hearing from her attorney. "I love the elk," she explains, "and hold no grudges."

Political Coercion
Two days after his inauguration as mayor, Dennis Shuler stepped off his front porch in October to find himself confronted by a midsized bull, part of a herd of 10 that was breakfasting on his lawn. When the bull charged, His Honor was forced to beat an unstatesmanlike retreat behind his neighbors' horse trailer.

Drunk and Disorderly?
In the wee hours of a brisk night last October, befuddled Banff residents spotted a cow gadding about town with a plastic lawn chair around her neck. Though varying explanations for the sartorial statement have been offered, the latest consensus seemed to hold that the elk had been unable to find a lamp shade in the appropriate size.

Illustration by Greg Clarke

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