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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remembering Dawn

This week's local paper in the Canadian Rockies was awash with bad news for our struggling wildlife: a rare female wolverine killed on Highway 93S in Kootenay National Park, a young male grizzly bear run over at night on Highway 68 in Kananaskis Country, an adult male black bear shot in downtown Canmore, and a young black bear hit by a train in Yoho National Park.

Perhaps fitting, then, that today marks the first anniversary of the magical morning that wildlife photographer Cai Priestley and I spent with a female grizzly bear and her two yearling cubs in a late spring snowfall one year ago near Lake Louise.  Less than 48 hours later, Dawn, the mother grizzly, was dead, hit by a Canadian Pacific train only a few kilometers from where Cai and I had photographed her, leaving her tiny cubs to fend for themselves in a landscape rife with hazards.

Dawn with her two cubs on May 27th, 2011 near Lake Louise in Banff National Park

I would like to think that her death was not in vain; after all, the incident got press all over the world and led to major news programs like CBC's The National covering the story and discussing concerns with the section of Canadian Pacific track that knifes through the heart of Banff National Park.  Dawn's photo graced the cover of national magazines like Canadian Geographic and the controversy over her death eventually led in part to a number of research studies that began this spring to address the issue of bear-wildlife-train conflicts in Canada's first national park.

Dawn playing with one of her cubs

On a more personal level, Cai and I launched a Facebook group, Save Banff's Wildlife, to keep interested parties up to speed on the fight to keep our mountain national parks a refuge for wildlife rather than a sinkhole. We were both really encouraged to see the response and felt like we were getting somewhere with our conservation efforts.

Yet when we have weeks like last week where wildlife carnage seems to be the order of the day in our Rocky Mountain national parks, it quickly seems as if nothing's changed.  Dawn is dead, and other animals continue to follow in her footsteps at an alarming rate. I begin to question myself, as do my friends and colleagues, wondering if we're actually making any difference at all.

But then, last night, a ray of hope emerged from the shadows. A text arrived from a Parks' friend.  It was short and sweet, saying simply, "They're alive!"

And just like that, I remembered Dawn and I remembered exactly what I'm fighting for -- two young, beautiful cubs.

Dawn's cubs have survived the winter.  Now let's hope they can navigate the coming summer.

Happy shooting everyone.



  1. John, this was such a beautiful post. Thank you.


  3. This is great ..we are watching in Tetons our loved 399 and her cubs separated..not by the nature ..a boar wanting to mate scared 17 months old cubs..399 is somewhere and her cubs need to learn last lessons of life without mom..we all hope for the best for the is hard yo make a difference ..I remember your post about Dawn and I am happy for her in Usa or in Canada we need yo fight to save our wildlife ...thank you for spreading the word...Izabela

  4. Me too...but so wonderful to hear they are alive!

  5. Great post John and I am so happy to hear that the cub's are alive, I hoped they were going to make it and didn't add to the mortality count. When I was shooting a black bear and watched it almost get hit by a train my heart fell and I could not imagine one actually getting hit especially leaving cubs behind.

  6. The photo you took of "Dawn" dispensing advice to her "cub" is priceless! Thank you John for caring and sharing!

  7. Great news and a great post John... Thanks.

  8. Thanks for the update John and the good news..... this is such a wonderful shot too!


  9. Hi John; I was truly distressed to hear the news about those animals lost forever by the carelesness of hwy drivers and especially about the bear shot in Canmore. There was no need as these animals can be tranquilized and moved back into the wild. Being a child of the deep north, growing up with wild animals I find it inexcuseable in irrisponsible of the imparement of careless drivers. Perhaps doing a petition might help open some eyes. Have a great summer and "happy shooting" also. Maureen

  10. Great post to bring awareness to the issue. There is a lot of room for improvement weather it be on tracks or on roads.