A front-page article in the March 2 issue of the Jackson Hole News&Guide regarding a wolf encounter by local resident Brian Hayden included this statement: “Wild wolves, going by the numbers, virtually never attack people.”
The facts dispute that conclusion.
From the year 1800 until present there have been at least 36 fatal attacks by wolves in North America. Two of these fatalities occurred in this century.
On March 8, 2010, school teacher Candice Berner was jogging near her home in Alaska and was attacked and killed by a wolf or wolves. DNA testing and necropsies performed on wolves killed in the area shortly after the attack ruled out rabies or wolf-dog hybridization as causes of the attack.
On Nov. 8, 2005, Kenton Joel Carnegie, a logger taking a walk through the forest, was killed and partially eaten by wolves near Points North Landing, Saskatchewan.
Worldwide, a reported 37 people have been killed by wolves since the year 2000, 271 in the 1900s, and 980 in the 1800s. In areas where wolves are prevalent and firearms are few, such as in Siberia, wolf attacks are not rare.
“Well,” you say, “those are anomalies. That is not indicative of wolves’ gentle and nonviolent natures.”
The evidence disputes those objections. There is a report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Technical Bulletin 13 (2002) titled “A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters in Alaska and Canada.” You can find that at DigitalCommons.unl.edu/wolfrecovery/26.
The report says: “Thirty-nine cases contain elements of aggression among healthy wolves, 12 cases involve known or suspected rabid wolves, and 29 cases document fearless behavior among non-aggressive wolves.”
Hayden’s encounter was one of the latter: a curious wolf, not afraid of humans. However, Hayden said the wolf was injured in some way and was dragging a back leg. That could be a danger signal, as an injured wolf that cannot hunt efficiently is more likely to be hungry and to view humans and their pets as prey.
It is also disconcerting that this wolf showed a reluctance to leave even after Brian clapped his hands and shouted at him to “get out of here!” A wolf with little or no fear of humans is a potentially dangerous animal. Wolves are predators and have evolved to kill animals and eat them. If a wolf loses fear of humans and is hungry he just might regard the human as a meal.
Newspapers at the time reported the following incidents:
Port Arthur, Ontario, Canada, Dec. 23, 1922: “An elderly Caucasian trapper left his camp to ‘mush down’ to the village to pick up his mail.
“Later in the day, two miles from the settlement, two Native American Indians discovered his bones and blood in the snow amidst torn pieces of harness. The two Indians took their own dog teams and extra ammunition out in pursuit of the same wolves but did not return.
“The following day, two miles beyond the scene of the first fatal attack, a search party discovered the rifles and bones of the two Indians amidst bits of clothing and empty shells. Scattered in a circle about the scene were the carcasses of 16 wolves.”
Menominee, Michigan, January 1885: news report: “Mr. Duging failed to return that night from a hunting trip. His friends found his body gnawed to the bone the following morning within 2 miles of their logging camp. Thirteen wolves that he had shot dead lay scattered near his body. At his side was his Winchester rifle with one round still loaded in the chamber.”
I, Jonesy, was once 6 feet from a wolf. My son and I were snowmobiling down Greys River Road when a big black dog ran out onto the groomed trail, headed toward Alpine. It loped ahead of us, not running in a panicked attempt to escape but as if it simply had some place to go. That caused me to question if it was someone’s dog and was headed back home.
Trenton came up beside me on his sled, and I mouthed the question, “Wolf?” He shrugged, not sure either. We dropped back a bit. The critter kept loping toward Alpine.
I finally increased my speed and came right up alongside the animal. He turned his head and looked at me from about 6 feet away. One look at those yellow eyes was all the confirmation I needed.
Wolf! We backed off and followed from a respectful distance until he finally left the groomed trail and went down into a hollow and stopped under a big spruce tree to catch his breath. We tried to take pictures, but he was in the shade so they didn’t come out. Some other snowmobilers arrived and we all watched him for a few minutes, then continued our return to Alpine.
The chances of being attacked by a wolf are slim, about like getting hit by lightning. But each of us should carry bear spray and be aware of our surroundings. If a wolf appears, first get out the bear spray, then take pictures.
Remember they can be dangerous, especially when in a pack.