By MARTIN KIDSTON
CODY — A man hiking in Yellowstone National Park encountered a female wolf outside a den and sprayed the animal with pepper spray before fleeing the scene.
Yellowstone Park officials confirmed Tuesday that the man, whose name was not released, encountered a female wolf in the Hayden Valley.
While park officials continue to investigate the incident, a spokesman said Tuesday that the man was hiking when he encountered a female wolf outside a den.
“There was no wolf attack,” park spokesman Al Nash said. “However, a visitor apparently had some sort of encounter with a wolf. The wolf did not attack him. He was not injured by a wolf.”
The wolf allegedly gave a warning bark, which the man interpreted as a growl. He sprayed the wolf with pepper spray — a deterrent most often used in bear encounters. The hiker heard the wolf yipping as a result of the spray as he fled.
Park officials said the man jumped into the Yellowstone River, believing the wolf might pursue him. He apparently lost his backpack as he was washed downriver and was treated by park rangers for hypothermia.
“This gentleman encountered a wolf, just as many visitors encounter bears, elk or sheep,” said Nash. “I don’t know what his decision-making process was. He chose to get away from the animal. Why he chose to go into the Yellowstone River, I just don’t know.”
Yellowstone wolf biologist Doug Smith and Dave Hallac, who oversees Yellowstone’s natural and cultural resources, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Wolves are commonly seen in the Hayden and Lamar valley areas of the park. Wildlife spotters often watch from surrounding vantage points as the animals cross the Hayden Valley’s sweeping meadows.
Versions of the latest story have already circulated on an unofficial Facebook page dedicated to Yellowstone National Park. But park officials said the investigating continues and details at this point are few.
“We have human-animal encounters all the time in the park,” said park spokesman Dan Hottle. “We have some kind of encounter on a daily basis, and we have to rely on the signage and information we put out on wildlife safety. The other 50 percent has to come from the park visitor.”
Park officials said trails are often posted as being closed in areas of known wolf dens or high bear activity. It’s unknown if the man was on a trail posted as closed, or if he was on a trail at all.
“We remind people to maintain the minimum distances to wildlife, which is 25 yards from most big animals, and 100 yards from bears and wolves,” Nash said. “The smart thing to do, if you feel an animal is responding to your presence, is to increase the distance to that animal.”