Canmore photographer aims to educate patrons while sharing connections to nature

Peter Dettling, a Canmore-based nature photographer and wildlife observer, says that Banff National Park offers a difficult habitat for wolves and bears.

Dettling is the owner of Terra Magica, a downtown Canmore photo gallery and wildlife education centre. Currently, his gallery is hosting an exhibit called “Of Wolves, Bears and Men.”

The exhibition features an ongoing series of wildlife education seminars and talks from some of the area’s most prominent experts. The series started on Feb. 10 and will run until June 20.

Dettling moved to Canada from Switzerland in 2002 with aspirations of experiencing genuine wilderness while advancing his new career in photography.

His initial excitement of living in the Bow Valley – next door to Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site – was quickly overshadowed by what he saw as a sad state of life for animals living within the confines of the park.

Peter Dettling, owner of Terra Magica Gallery poses in front his once-in-a-lifetime photo.
Photo by: Taryn Hajnrych

Instead of finding a pristine ecological sanctuary, Dettling says that he found a park “that was in deep trouble” – where it was shockingly difficult for wolves and bears to survive in their own habitat.

Dettling says he found himself wondering, “If we can’t get it right in national parks, then where else?”

The disappointment of how Parks Canada was handling what he thought to be a frightening reality, coupled with the dwindling populations of animals, led him to write and publish his own book, which also showcases his photographic art.

Günther Bloch, a canine expert and featured speaker in the series, echoes Dettling’s sentiments about Parks Canada and their failure to protect the ecology of Banff National Park.

“The habitat is fragmented, through roads, through railways, through infrastructure. It’s hard for the wolves to live in such conditions,” Bloch says.

Gunther Bloch, a canine expert and long-time wolf observer in Banff National Parks was the first of a series of wildlife experts to give educational talks at the Terra Magica Gallery.
Photo by: Taryn Hajnrych

Bloch, who has been observing wolves in Banff National Park for more than two decades, says he believes education about wilderness in Canada is key. Bloch supports Dettling’s efforts, and although Terra Magica has only been open since the summer of 2011, he says has high hopes for his success.

It’s a new combination, and a fresh innovative idea. In the long run, I think it will turn out well,” he says.

Bloch says he believes that Canadians like to be educated about their wilderness – a theory that was well supported by an overwhelming turnout of Bow Valley residents for his Feb. 11 lecture.

“Let’s give them information. Let’s encourage them to cherish what they have,” he says.

As Parks Canada encourages more tourism, Bloch says it is important for people to know how to act when they come across wildlife.

“The future for them [wolves] isn’t rosy,” says Bloch. His advice for those who are lucky enough to come across wildlife is:

• Park at least 100 metres away and give them some distance.

• Pull to the side of the road and turn off the engine.

• Stay in the car.

• Be patient, if you see one wolf, there are definitely more following.

• When driving, respect the speed limits. They’re there for a very good reason, and though there are fences, they have holes and animals can still access the roads.

Bloch says it is important to get the right information. Many stereotypes prevail and can affect preservation efforts. If wildlife in the Bow Valley are going to flourish, he says, people and animals must learn to live together.

Stereotypes are one of the major factors that affect Georgina De Caigny’s line of work.

De Caigny runs Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary and says misconceptions and a lack of education can have a negative effect on crossbreeds, like the ones that she cares for.

“Most people will get a wolf dog as an impulse buy because they want that fantasy of owning something from the wild,” she says.

De Caigny says that most of the surrendered wolf dogs that she has are around six months of age. She says this is the age when people realize that the puppy they purchased isn’t just a cute puppy anymore, and that part of it is wild and can be destructive.

“It’s very easy for breeders around here to make money by calling something part wolf,” she says.

De Caigny says she thinks that talks like Bloch’s are a step in the right direction: “There are so many misconceptions out there, just like pit bulls and German shepherds. Wolves are very timid animals, if they see people they will actually run away.”

The more people learn, she says, the more these misconceptions will be dispelled.

“Wolves aren’t the vicious, dangerous animals we learn about in fairy tales.”

thajnrych@cjournal.ca