curiosity about the ways of the world

Caution: elk crossing

Here’s some Global Gossip with a difference. Yesterday, on another unnaturally warm winter morning, I opened my email to find an amazing early spring scene from my cousin Beryl in Vancouver, a photo so surreal I thought at first that Beryl had been busy with PhotoShop. But on further reading I discover that there are indeed parts of the Trans-Canada Highway where not only elk may safely pass, but bears, moose, cougar, wolves, and bighorn sheep are also all invited to go over, under or along their own private lane to avoid fatal contact with the horseless carriage.


“For all of you that may not know it,” says Beryl, “this is the actual turnoff from Banff to the [Trans-Canada] # 1 highway to Calgary”

I was so intrigued by Beryl’s picture I spent some time Googling random searches such as ‘elk crossing Banff highway.’ A strange story of human perversity emerges in the development of the Trans-Canada Highway which goes bang smack through the most ecologically wild and wonderful part of Banff National Park. With no hint of irony the Parks Canada website acknowledges that during the 1980s people were concerned by the increasing numbers of collisions between vehicles and large mammals (no doubt the elk, moose, bears etc weren’t all that chuffed either).

The solution, accepted by the Canada Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), is to make more room for both cars and wildlife. ‘Twinning the Trans Canada Highway’ means doubling the road from two lanes to four lanes but alongside that goes fencing to keep unfortunate animals from straying on to the ribbon of death bisecting their territory, and what CPAWS calls “one of the best testing sites of innovative wildlife roadway crossings in the world”.

It seems to be working though ecologists are not completely satisfied. While ‘twinning’ makes slow progress (because it costs a hell of a lot of money), CPAWs are carrying out research to find out how many and what kind of animals actually use these extraordinary imaginative feats of engineering(just take a look on the Parks Canada website at the variety of wildlife crossing over and under TCH). So far, a length of string interwoven with barbed wire has picked up encouraging evidence of black and grizzly bears and the search goes on.

But here’s to the elk. And thanks to Beryl for a strangely heart warming insight into human nature. What an odd species we are.

[PS, 22 March 2009, nearly two years later the story continues to fire the imagination.  See also Elk Ride Again and Again. ]


  1. Administrator

    I am also intrigued and amazed that my almost accidental blog of seven months ago continues to produce fascinating comments from Canada – I have just watched some of the video of efforts to reduce wildlife deaths on the Trans-Canada Highway. More words to come later.

  2. Dave Poulton

    I am intrigued and heartened to see the matter of wildlife-safe highways being debated in Britain. For those interested in the Canadian experience, CPAWS has released a 24 minute documetnary video examining the success and limitations of the use offencing and wildlife crossing structures on the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff. It can be viewed online in Quicktime at

    BTW, the photo of the elk on the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge (beside, but not on the highway) is generally accepted to be real in these parts where it was taken.


    Dave Poulton, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)

  3. steve sprengel

    From my father, with whom I argued about it being fake:

    “Regarding the picture of many Elk on the animal overpass at a Calgary, Lake Louise intersection in Banff National Park… I just showed it to my immediate neighbour who moved here from Calgary 2 years ago, and who has been back and forth through there about 8 times each way since then… He says, that there’s no question… He has seen the animal crossing at that exact overpass, and using his finger on the table beside the picture, outlined where the other approach roads go…”

  4. Lonnie

    Hate to disappoint you, but I live in the area and have spent a lot of time driving through this region and patterning the park elk. This is a masterful photoshop opportunity as there are only automotive overpasses at this junction. It is true that multiple wildlife crossing structures do exist in the corridor but this is not one of them and the photo is a fake.

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