WOLF ATTACKS ON HUMANS
By T. R. Mader, Research Director
It has been widely discussed whether a healthy wild wolf has ever attacked a human on this continent. In fact, many say such attacks have never occurred in North America.
History states otherwise. Although attacks on humans are uncommon, they have occurred on this continent, both in the early years of settlement and more recently. Here is one report:
“NEW ROCKFORD, DAK, March 7 - The news has just reached here that a father and son, living several miles northeast of this city, were destroyed by wolves yesterday. The two unfortunate men started to a haystack some ten rods from the house to shovel a path around the stack when they were surrounded by wolves and literally eaten alive. The horror-stricken mother was standing at the window with a babe in her arms, a spectator to the terrible death of her husband and son, but was unable to aid them. After they had devoured every flesh from the bones of the men, the denizens of the forest attacked the house, but retired to the hills in a short time. Investigation found nothing but the bones of the husband and son. The family name was Olson. Wolves are more numerous and dangerous now than ever before known in North Dakota." (Saint Paul Daily Globe, March 8, 1888)
Here an account is reported which included an eyewitness and the family name. Some have reasoned the wolves were rabid. That is unlikely as these animals were functioning as a pack. A rabid wolf is a loner. Our research has never found a single historical account of packs of rabid wolves on this continent. Individual animals are the norm. Further, accounts of rabid (hydrophobic) animals were common in that day and were reported as such.
The winters of 1886-1888 were very harsh. Many western ranchers went broke during these years. The harsh winter could have been a factor in the attack.
Noted naturalists documented wolf attacks on humans. John James Audubon, of whom the Audubon Society is named, reported an attack involving 2 Negroes. He records that the men were traveling through a part of Kentucky near the Ohio border in winter. Due to the wild animals in the area the men carried axes on their shoulders as a precaution. While traveling through a heavily forested area, they were attacked by a pack of wolves. Using their axes, they attempted to fight off the wolves. Both men were knocked to the ground and severely wounded. One man was killed. The other dropped his axe and escaped up a tree. There he spent the night. The next morning the man climbed down from the tree. The bones of his friend lay scattered on the snow. Three wolves lay dead. He gathered up the axes and returned home with the news of the event. This incident occurred about 1830. (Audubon, J.J., and Bachman, J.; The Quadrupeds of North America, 3 volumes. New York, 1851 - 1854)
George Bird Grinnell investigated several reported wolf attacks on humans. He dismissed many reports for lack of evidence. Grinnell did verify one attack.
This occurrence was in northwestern Colorado. An eighteen-year-old girl went out at dusk to bring in some milk cows. She saw a gray wolf on a hill as she went out for the cows. She shouted at the wolf to scare it away and it did not move. She then threw a stone at it to frighten it away. The animal snarled at her shouting and attacked her when she threw the stone at it. The wolf grabbed the girl by the shoulder, threw her to the ground and bit her severely on the arms and legs. She screamed and her brother, who was nearby and armed with a gun, responded to the scene of the attack and killed the wolf. The wolf was a healthy young animal, barely full grown. Grinnell met this girl and examined her. She carried several scars from the attack. This attack occurred in summer about 1881. (Grinnell, G.B.; Trail and Campfire - Wolves and Wolf Nature, New York, 1897)
In 1942, Michael Dusiak, section foreman for the Canadian Pacific Railway, was attacked by a wolf while patrolling a section of track on a speeder (small 4-wheeled open railroad car). Dusiak relates, "It happened so fast and as it was still very dark, I thought an engine had hit me first. After getting up from out of the snow very quickly, I saw the wolf which was about fifty feet away from me and it was coming towards me, I grabbed the two axes (tools on the speeder), one in each hand and hit the wolf as he jumped at me right in the belly and in doing so lost one axe. Then the wolf started to circle me and got so close to me at times that I hit him with the head of the axe and it was only the wielding of the axe that kept him from me. All this time he was growling and gnashing his teeth. Then he would stop circling me and jump at me and I would hit him with the head of the axe. This happened five times and he kept edging me closer to the woods which was about 70 feet away. We fought this way for about fifteen minutes and I fought to stay out in the open close to the track. I hit him quite often as he came at me very fast and quick and I was trying to hit him a solid blow in the head for I knew if once he got me down it would be my finish. Then in the course of the fight he got me over onto the north side of the track and we fought there for about another ten minutes. Then a west bound train came along travelling about thirty miles an hour and stopped about half a train length west of us and backed up to where we were fighting. The engineer, fireman and brakeman came off the engine armed with picks and other tools, and killed the wolf."
It should be noted that this wolf was skinned and inspected by an Investigator Crichton, a Conservation Officer. His assessment was that the animal was a young healthy wolf in good condition although it appeared lean. ("A Record of Timber Wolf Attacking a Man," JOURNAL OF MAMMOLOGY, Vol. 28, No. 3, August 1947)
Common Man Institute, in cooperation with Abundant Wildlife Society of North America, has done extensive research on wolves and their history for several years. We have gathered evidence on wolf attacks which occurred in North America.
A forester employed by the Province of British Colombia was checking some timber for possible harvest in the 1980s. He was met by a small pack of three wolves. The forester yelled at the wolves to frighten them away. Instead, the wolves came towards him in a threatening manner and he was forced to retreat and climb a nearby tree for safety. The wolves remained at the base of the tree. The forester had a portable radio, but was unable to contact his base, due to distance, until evening. When the call for help came in, two Conservation Officers with the Ministry of Environment were flown to the area by floatplane to rescue the treed forester.
When the Conservation Officers arrived, the forester was still in the tree and one wolf, the apparent leader of the pack, was still at the base of the tree. The officers, armed with shotguns, shot at the wolf and missed. The wolf ran for cover and then started circling and howling near the two officers. After a couple missed shots, the wolf was finally shot and killed.
The wolf tested negative for rabies. It appeared healthy in every respect, but was very lean. The Conservation Officers felt the attack was caused by hunger. (Taped Interviews and a photo of the wolf on file at Abundant Wildlife Society of North America.)
This is but one example from British Colombia. Wolves overran Vancouver Island in the 1980s. Attacks became so common that articles were published in Canadian magazines documenting such attacks. (Copies available upon request.)
Wolf Attacks on humans have occurred in national parks, too. In August 1987, a sixteen-year-old girl was bitten by a wild wolf in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. The girl was camping in the park with a youth group and shined a flashlight at the wolf. The wolf reacted to the light by biting the girl on the arm. That bite was not hard and due to the thick sweater and sweatshirt the girl was wearing, she sustained two scratch marks on her arm. The wolf was shot by Natural Resources personnel and tested negative for rabies. (Interview with Ron Tozer, Park Naturalist for Algonquin Provincial Park, 7/25/88.)
Well-known wolf biologist Dr. David Mech took issue with this attack stating it couldn't really be considered an authentic attack since the girl wasn't injured more severely. It was exactly nine years when such an attack would take place.
Algonquin Provincial Park is one of several areas where people are encouraged to "howl" at the wolves in hopes of a response from the wild wolves in the area. In August, 1996, the Delventhal family of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were spending a nine-day family vacation in Algonquin and joined a group of Scouts in "howling" at the wolves. They were answered by the howl of a solitary wolf.
That night the Delventhals decided to sleep out under the stars. Young Zachariah was dreaming when he suddenly felt excruciating pain in his face. A lone wolf had bit him in the face and was dragging him from his sleeping bag. Zach screamed and Tracy, Zach's Mother, raced to his side and picked him up, saturating her thermal shirt with blood from Zach's wounds.
The wolf stood menacingly less than a yard away. Tracy yelled at her husband, Thom, who leapt from his sleeping bag and charged the wolf. The wolf retreated and then charged at Tracy and Zach. The charges were repeated. Finally the wolf left. Thom turned a flashlight on 11-year-old Zach and gasped "Oh, my God!" "The boy's face had been ripped open. His nose was crushed. Parts of his mouth and right cheek were torn and dangling. Blood gushed from puncture wounds below his eyes, and the lower part of his right ear was missing." Zach was taken to a hospital in Toronto where a plastic surgeon performed four hours of reconstructive surgery. Zach received more than 80 stitches in his face.
Canadian officials baited the Delventhals' campsite and captured and destroyed a 60-lb wild male wolf. No further attacks have occurred since. (Cook, Kathy; "Night of the Wolf" READER'S DIGEST, July 1997, pp. 114-119.)
Humans have been attacked by wolves in Alaska. The late David Tobuk carried scars on his face from a wolf attack on him as a small child. The incident occurred around the turn of the century in interior Alaska. David was playing in his village near a river. An old wolf came into the village and bit David in the face and started to carry him off. Other Eskimos saw the wolf dragging the child off and started yelling and screaming. The wolf dropped the child and was shot by an old Eskimo trapper who had a gun. (Interview with Frank Tobuk, brother, Bettles, Alaska, December 1988.)
Paul Tritt, an Athabascan Indian, was attacked by a lone wolf while working a trap line. Paul was setting a snare, looked up and saw a wolf lunging at him. He threw his arm up in front of his face and it was bitten severely by the wolf. A struggle ensued. Tritt was able to get to his sled, grab a gun and kill the wolf. Nathaniel Frank, a companion, helped Tritt wash the wound with warm water. Frank took Tritt, via dog sled, to Fort Yukon to see a doctor. The arm healed, but Tritt never regained full use of it. Several years later, the arm developed problems and had to be amputated. (Interview with Paul Tritt, Venetie, Alaska, November, 1988)
Two wolf attacks on humans occurred in 2000.
Icy Bay, Alaska - Six-year-old John Stenglein and a nine-year-old friend were playing outside his family's trailer at a logging camp when a wild wolf came out of the woods towards the boys. The boys ran and the wolf attacked young Stenglein from the back, biting him on the back and buttocks. Adults, hearing the boy's screams, came and chased the wolf away. The wolf returned a few moments later and was shot. According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) officials, the wolf was a healthy wild wolf that apparently attacked without provocation. The boy was flown to Yakutat and recieved stitches there for his wounds. Later, however, the bites became infected and the boy had to be hospitalized. (Reports and Interviews on file and available upon request.)
Vargas Island, British Colombia - University student, Scott Langevin, 23, was on a kayak trip with friends. They camped out on a beach and, about 1 AM, Langevin awoke with something pulling on his sleeping bag. He looked out and came face to face with a wild wolf. Langevin yelled at the wolf and it attacked, biting him on the hand. Langevin attempted to force the wolf toward a nearby campfire, but as he turned, the wolf jumped on his back and started biting him on the back of his head. Friends, hearing his yells, came to his aid and scared the wolf away. Fifty (50) stitches were required to close the wound on Langevin's head. British Colombia Ministry of Enviroment officials speculate the reason for the attack was due to the wolves occasionally being fed by humans although there was no evidence that Langevin or any of his party fed these animals. (Reports and Interviews on file and available upon request.)
This is but a brief summary of a few verifiable accounts of attacks on humans by healthy wild wolves in North American History.
Biologists tell us that the wolves of Asia and North America are one and the same species. Wolf attacks are common in many parts of Asia.
The government of India reported more than 100 deaths attributable to wolves in one year during the eighties. (Associated Press, 1985) This author recalls a news report in 1990 in which Iran reported deaths from attacks by wolves.
Rashid Jamsheed, a U.S. trained biologist, was the game director for Iran. He wrote a book entitled "Big Game Animals of Iran (Persia)." In it he made several references to wolf attacks on humans. Jamsheed says that for a millennia people have reported wolves attacking and killing humans. In winter, when starving wolves grow bold, they have been known to enter towns and kill people in daylight on the streets. Apparently, in Iran, there are many cases of wolves running off with small children. There is also a story of a mounted and armed policeman (gendarme) being followed by 3 wolves. In time he had to get off his horse to attend to nature’s call, leaving his rifle in the scabbard. A later reconstruction at the scene of the gnawed bones and wolf tracks indicated that the horse had bolted and left the man defenseless, whereupon he was killed and eaten.
A Russian Linguist, Will Graves, provided our organization with reports of wolves killing Russian people in many areas of that country. Reports indicate some of the wolves were diseased while others appeared healthy. (Reports on file and available upon request.)
Reports have also come from rural China. The official Zinhua News Agency reported that a peasant woman, Wu Jing, snatched her two daughters from the jaws of a wolf and wrestled with the animal until rescuers arrived. Wu slashed at the wolf with a sickle and it dropped one daughter, but grabbed her sister. It was then Wu wrestled with the animal until herdsmen came and drove the beast away. This incident occurred near Shenyang City, about 380 miles northeast of Beijing. (Chronicle Features, 1992)
The question arises: "Why so many attacks in Asia and so few in North America?"
Two factors must be considered:
1. The Philosophy of Conservation - Our forefathers always believed that they had the right and obligation to protect their livelihoods. Considerable distance was necessary between man and wolf for the wolf to survive.
2. Firearms - Inexpensive, efficient weapons gave man the upper hand in the protection of his livelihood and for the taking of wolves.
Milton P. Skinner in his book, “The Yellowstone Nature Book” (published 1924) wrote, "Most of the stories we hear of the ferocity of these animals... come from Europe. There, they are dangerous because they do not fear man, since they are seldom hunted except by the lords of the manor. In America, the wolves are the same kind, but they have found to their bitter cost that practically every man and boy carries a rifle..."
Skinner was correct. The areas of Asia where wolf attacks occur on humans are the same areas where the people have no firearms or other effective means of predator control.
But ... "Biologists claim there are no documented cases of healthy wild wolves attacking humans."
What they really mean is there are no "documented" cases by their criteria which excludes historical accounts. Here's an example.
Rabid wolves were a frightening experience in the early years due to their size and the seriousness of being bit, especially before a vaccine was developed. The bitten subject usually died a slow, miserable death. There are numerous accounts of rabid wolves and their activities. Early Army forts have medical records of rabid wolves coming into the posts and biting several people before being killed. Most of the people bitten died slow, horrible deaths. Additionally, early historical writings relate personal accounts. This author recalls one historical account telling of a man being tied to a tree and left to die because of his violent behavior with rabies after being bitten by a wolf. Such deaths left profound impressions on eyewitnesses of those events.
Dr. David Mech, USFWS wolf biologist, states there are no "documented" cases of rabid wolves below the fifty seventh latitude north (near Whitehorse, Yukon Territory). When asked what "documented" meant, he stated, "The head of the wolf must be removed, sent to a lab for testing and found to be rabid."
Those requirements for documentation negate all historical records!
As with rabid wolves, the biologist can say, "There are no `documented' cases of wild healthy wolves attacking humans." In order to be "documented" these unreasonable criteria must be met:
1. The wolf has to be killed, examined and found to be healthy.
2. It must be proven that the wolf was never kept in captivity in its entire life.
3. There must be eyewitnesses to the attack.
4. The person must die from their wounds (bites are generally not considered attacks according to the biologists).
That is a "documented" attack.
Such criteria make it very difficult to document any historical account of a wolf attack on a human!
Biologists assume when a wolf attacks a human, that there must be something wrong with the wolf. It's either been in captivity or it's sick or whatever. They don't examine the evidence in an unbiased manner or use historical tests.
Historically, there are four reasons for wolf attacks on humans:
1. Disease such as rabies.
2. Extreme hunger.
3. Familiarity/Disposition - This is an either/or situation. Familiarity is the zoo setting, captive wolves, etc. Disposition is a particularly aggressive wolf which may not fear man as most wolves do.
4. In the heat of the chase and kill - This is where a hiker, trapper or whoever disturbs a fresh chase and kill by wolves. The person walks into the scene only to be attacked by the wolves.
It is our belief that a predator's fear of man is both instinctive and learned behavior. For example, wolves raised as pets or in zoos are well documented to attack and kill humans.
Alyshia Berzyck, of Minnesota, was attacked and killed by a wolf on a chain on June 3, 1989. The wolf tore up her kidney, liver and bit a hole through her aorta. One month later, on July 1, 1989, Peter Lemke, 5, lost 12 inches of his intestine and colon and suffered bites to his stomach, neck, legs, arms and back in another wolf attack in Kenyon, Minnesota. (Reports on file and available upon request.)
Zoos carry abundant records of wolf attacks on people, particularly children. The child climbs the enclosure fence to pet the "dog" and is attacked.
Zoos and domestic settings are unnatural in that they place man and wolf in close proximity and they become accustomed to each other. Consequently attacks occur.
Today predator control is very restricted in scope, and as a result, attacks on humans by predators are becoming more common. In recent years, healthy coyotes in Yellowstone Park have attacked humans. Similar attacks have occurred in the National Parks of Canada.
On January 14, 1991, a healthy mountain lion attacked and killed an eighteen-year-old high school senior, Scott Lancaster, in Idaho Springs, Colorado. The boy was jogging on a jogging path within the city limits of the town when the lion attacked and killed him. (Report on file at Abundant Wildlife Society of North America)
Copyright 1995, 2000, T. R. Mader, Research Director
Permission granted to disseminate and/or reprint if credit is given to the source.
OTHER REPORTED WOLF ATTACKS IN THE WILD
1. Comox Valley, British Colombia – 1986 - While driving a tractor, Jakob Knopp was followed by three wolves to his barn. They didn't leave, but kept snarling and showing their teeth. Knopp ran to his barn, retreived a rifle and had to shoot two of the three wolves before the third left the area.
2. George Williams, a retired sailor heard a commotion in his chicken coup one night. Thinking it was raccoons he took his single shot 22 rifle and headed for the coup. He rounded his fishing boat and trailer when a wolf leaped at him. He instinctively reacted with a snap shot with the rifle and dropped the wolf. A second wolf came at him before he could reload and George swung the rifle and struck the wolf across the head, stunning it. George retreated to the house until morning and found the wolf he had shot, the other was gone.
3. Clarence Lewis was picking berries on a logging road about a mile from Knopp's farm when he faced four wolves. Lewis yelled at them, two left and the other two advanced towards him. He took a branch and took a couple of threatening steps at them. They went into the brush and stayed close to him. Lewis faced the wolves and walked backward for two miles until he reached his car.
4. Don Hamilton, Conservation Officer at Nanaimo went to investigate a livestock killing by wolves. Wolves had killed a number of sheep in a pasture and Don went out to examine the kills. He came upon the scene and saw a large gray wolf feeding on one of the sheep. The wolf looked at him, growled and started running towards him at full speed. The wolf was over 100 yards away and never broke stride as it approached Don. At approximately 15 feet, Don shot the wolf to stop its attack. Don, who has many years experience with wolves, stated that he was convinced that the wolf was going to attack him because of its growling, snarling and aggressive behavior.
5. In 1947, a man was hunting cougar on Vancouver Island and was attacked by a pack of seven wolves. The man backed against a tree and shot the leader of the pack. The pack instantly tore the animal to shreds while the hunter made his escape.
6. Clarence Lindley was reportedly attacked by a 125-pound timber wolf. The incident occurred in early November, 1992 on the Figure 4 Ranch in Dunn County, North Dakota. Lindley was hunting horseback when the wolf attacked Lindley's horse causing it to jump and fall. Lindley was able to grab his saddle gun, a lever action Winchester 94, as the horse fell. The horse recovered its balance and Lindley found himself face to face with a snarling wolf. "My heart was pounding," said Lindley, "I could see those big teeth. He was less than five feet away... He meant business; he wasn't going to back off." Lindley fired his rifle at point blank range and killed the wolf with a shot to the neck. Lindley left the wolf since he couldn't get his horse close to it. On return to his hunting camp, his hunter friends failed to believe the account. They returned to the scene and skinned the wolf. The pelt was a flawless black and gray pelt measuring seven and a half feet from its feet to its snout. Its bottom teeth measured one and a half inches; top teeth - one and a quarter inches. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDGF) confiscated the hide and head of the wolf and took it to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for determination of its species. Tests revealed that the wolf was non-rabid. The wolf was thought to have come from Canada. (Reports on file and available upon request.)
WOLF ATTACKS ON HUMANS (domestic incidents)
1. In the 1970s, John Harris, a Californian, toured the nation with “tame” wolves to promote public sympathy for preserving wolves. In July, 1975, "Rocky," one of Harris' wolves, attacked a one-year-old girl by biting her in the face. The girl was brought close to the wolf for a picture, an action encouraged by Harris.
2. In Maryland, a man kept a wolf in his basement and this animal turned and savagely bit and clawed his two-year-old son.
3. In New York City, a wolf bit a woman as it approached her.
4. At a zoo in Idaho, a little girl walked up to a cage housing a wolf and reached through the bars to pet the wolf. The wolf bit the arm. The arm had to be amputated.
5. Mr. Edward Rucciuti, former curator of publications for the New York Zoological Society and author of KILLER ANIMALS, personally witnessed a 12-year-old boy savagely attacked in the Bronx Zoo. This boy climbed a high fence in order to pet the wolves. The wolves (male and 2 females) immediately attacked the boy, ripping at the boy's clothing and flesh. The boy instinctively curled up in a ball, protecting his head, chest and abdomen. He then crawled into the moat in front of the exhibit with the wolves chewing his back and legs. Once the boy made it to the water, the wolves ceased their attack. The boy crawled out of the moat and collapsed. Mr. Rucciuti was amazed that the boy was still alive due to the severity of the bites.
6. San Diego Zoo (1971) A 15-year-old boy climbed the fence and tried to take a shortcut across the exhibit. He didn't know there were wolves in the exhibit and tried to run when he saw them. The wolves grabbed him by the leg attempting to drag him off. The boy grabbed a tree and hung on. Two bystanders jumped in the enclosure and attacked the wolves with tree branches. The wolves did not attack the two men, but continued to maul the boy. Dragging the boy and swinging their clubs, the boy was pulled out of the enclosure. The wolves in the enclosure were all young animals and it was thought that if the animals were mature, the boy would have died before being rescued.
7. A few months after the attack on the boy (#6), a man scaled the fence and swung his arms in the exhibit to get the attention of the wolves and got it by being bitten severely on both arms.
8. 1973 - Another boy tried to cross the same compound and was attacked, a security guard shot and killed one of the wolves, and the other fled as the boy was pulled to safety.
9. 1975 - Small zoo in Worcester, Massachusetts, a two-year-old lad was savagely bitten on the leg when it slipped through an enclosure opening. The boy's mother and 2 men could not pu