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Wolf attacks on humans in North America

by Jonathan DuHamel

I have often heard the claim by some environmentalists that there has never been a documented attack on humans by wolves in North America. That claim is untrue as I will demonstrate. Wolf attacks on humans are rare as are attacks by mountain lions and bears, but they do occur. Somewhat more common are apparent “stalkings” by wolves, especially of children in rural areas (see here and theCatron County Wolf Hotline for incidents involving the Mexican Gray Wolf in New Mexico).

Quite common, however, are incidents of predation by wolves on sheep and cattle. For more information, see: Wolf Crossing,Life With Wolves, and Gray Wolf News.

A sampling of documented wolf attacks on humans:

I begin with Alaska Department of Fish & Game Technical Bulletin 13 (2002) entitled “A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters in Alaska and Canada.” That study was precipitated by a wolf attack on a 6-year-old boy near Icy Bay, Alaska, in April, 2000. The study documents 80 wolf-human “encounters.” “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. In 6 cases in which healthy wolves acted aggressively, the people were accompanied by dogs. Aggressive, non rabid wolves bit people in 16 cases; none of those bites was life-threatening, but in 6 cases the bites were severe.”

KXLY News, Billings, Montana, Oct 12, 2011:

PIERCE, Idaho – A North Idaho grandmother considers herself lucky to be alive after she was able to shoot and kill a wolf as it tried to attack her on a recent hunting trip.

The wolf snuck up on Rene Anderson late last month near Headquarters, Idaho about 125 miles southeast of Spokane.

“It was coming down pretty fast towards me; it was kind of nerve racking. I laid my bow on the ground and I thought this thing seriously wants to eat me,” she said.

Anderson knew just how much danger she was in because just six days before, wolves had killed three of her best friend’s hunting dogs.

Daily News-Miner, Fairbanks, Alaska Dec 17, 2012:

A wolf attacked a Tok trapper on his snowmachine last week about 30 miles off the Taylor Highway, biting through the man’s parka and three layers of clothing to put a 3-inch gash on his arm.

Lance Grangaard, 30, said he was “putting along” on his Ski-Doo Tundra on Thursday afternoon, coming down a frozen creek, when he saw the wolf out of the corner of his eye.

“I turned in time to stick my arm up,” said Grangaard, who was trapping with his father, Danny, in a remote area off the Taylor Highway known as Ketchumstuk. “A single black wolf grabbed my arm and started jerking on me.”

Wolf Crossing, Chignik Lake, Alaska, December 7, 2011:

At least two wolves chased down and killed a teacher who was jogging on a road last year outside a rural Alaska village, according to a report released Tuesday by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The body of Candice Berner, 32, a special education teacher originally from Slippery Rock, Pa., was found March 8, 2010, two miles outside Chignik Lake. The village is 474 miles southwest of Anchorage, on the Alaska Peninsula.

Biologists ruled out reasons for the attack other than aggression. Investigators found no evidence that the wolves had acted defensively or that Berner was carrying food. They found no kill site that wolves may have been defending, no indication that the wolves had become habituated to people, and no evidence of rabies.

“This appears to have been an aggressive, predatory attack that was relatively short in duration,” the report concluded. DNA tests confirmed Berner was killed by wolves.

Daily Press, Escanaba, Michigan, November 8, 2010:

When Delta Conservation District Executive Director Rory Mattson headed out to begin a forestry project Oct. 8 along Trombley Road, he didn’t expect to find himself treed by a small pack of wolves.

Some historical reports of attacks by wolves on humans:

John James Audubon, of whom the Audubon society is named, reported an attack involving two men traveling through part of Kentucky near the Ohio border in the winter. The two men were carrying axes when they were viciously attacked by a pack of wolves, they managed to kill three wolves. One man was severely wounded and one man was killed, and devoured by the remainder of the wolves, only bones remained the next day. This occurred about 1830 ( Audubon,J.J.. and Bachman,J,: The Quadrupeds of North America.3 volumes. New York, 1851-1854)

In northwestern Colorado, an 18-year-old girl was viciously attacked while bringing in milk cows, she screamed and her brother, who was nearby armed with a gun responded to the scene and killed the Wolf. The wolf was a healthy young animal barely full-grown. This occurred in the summer about 1881 ( Grinnell,G.B; The Trail and Campfire- Wolves and Wolf Nature, New York, 1897).

In1942, Michael Dusiak, section foreman for the Canadian Pacific Railway, was attacked by a wolf, the wolf was killed by the train’s engineer, and a fireman with picks and other tools. It should be noted that this wolf was scanned and inspected by an Investigator Chrichton, a Conservation Officer. His assessment was the animal was young, healthy, and in good condition. (” A Record of Timber Wolf Attacking Man”Journal Of Mammalogy, Vol. 28, No. 3, August 1947).

Even environmentalists should know that wolves are predators and will attack anything given the right circumstances. The claim that there have been no wolf attacks on humans in North America is shown to be a myth.

If readers know of other wolf attacks on humans, especially in the “lower 48? please add your story to the comments section and provide a link to the original story if you can.

Incidentally, coyotes sometimes attack humans also. A paper in Human Dimensions of Wildlife reports “We conducted an analysis of coyote attacks on humans in the United States and Canada, including 142 reported incidents of coyote attacks resulting in 159 victims. Most attacks were classified as predatory (37%) or investigative (22%) in nature. The number of reported attacks was nearly equal between adults and children, although child victims were more prevalent in predatory attacks.” A large majority of these attacks were in California with Arizona coming in a distant second.