When wolves lose their fear of humans

It was 11:00 p.m. and Stanley Russ was only a few steps from Grant and Miranda Moore’s house when a wolf bolted out of the bushes and at­tacked him. Hearing his screams, the Moores raced out­side. The ruck­ous also aler­ted the couple next door, Russ’ son Frank and his wife, Sylvia, to the emergency.

Frank got between the wolf and his dad, while the oth­ers provided first aid. Despite Frank yelling and throw­ing whatever he could find, the wolf re­peatedly at­temp­ted to get to Russ. A neigh­bour set off her car alarm and the wolf dis­ap­peared only to re­appear an hour later.

The sev­enty-two year old Port Edward, BC res­id­ent suffered severe bites to one arm and both legs. He re­ceived emer­gency sur­gery at the Prince Rupert Hospital and was later flown to Vancouver General Hospital for fur­ther treatment.

Russ sur­vived the at­tack, the wolf was killed and, after an in­tens­ive in­vest­ig­a­tion, Conservation Officer Service (COS) deemed the May 29, 2020 at­tack predatory.

Attacks by healthy wolves are ex­tremely rare and usu­ally oc­cur when wolves be­come ha­bitu­ated to hu­mans and are food con­di­tioned. the Port Edward in­cid­ent was a clas­sic case.

A large pop­u­la­tion of fer­al cats in Port Edward and Prince Rupert res­ul­ted in wolves fre­quent­ing both com­munit­ies. The in­vest­ig­a­tion into the at­tack also re­vealed a net­work of trails between Port Edward and a nearby land­fill where wolves ate garbage on a reg­u­lar basis.

As well as sources of food, wolves are also at­trac­ted to hu­man be­long­ings and have been known to keep and play with items for up to a year. COS ob­served a well chewed shoe at the dump that was reg­u­larly moved from one spot to another.

Most people do not real­ize how easy it is for wolves to be­come com­fort­able around people. If wolves re­ceive re­wards such as garbage, food or hu­man be­long­ings, they will be­gin to seek out places where people are rather than avoid them.

In many areas, wolf pop­u­la­tions are in­creas­ing and some wolves are mov­ing through or even oc­cupy­ing space close to hu­mans. It’s up to com­munit­ies and in­di­vidu­als to make sure there are no at­tract­ants to arouse their interest.

Photo cour­tesy Avishag Ayalon



Wolf attack at Banff National Park, Alberta

Around 1:00 a.m. on August 9, Matt and Elisa Rispoli jol­ted awake when they felt the side of their tent move vi­ol­ently. Matt as­sumed it was a black bear so yelled and struck the tent where the an­im­al was push­ing on it. The an­im­al bit Matt’s hand and pro­ceed to tear open the tent. As their shel­ter col­lapsed around them, Elisa threw her­self over the New Jersey couple’s two young sons.

Through the new open­ing in the tent, Matt saw a wolf about a metre (three feet) away. Then it lunged at him, grabbing him by his up­per right arm. Matt, tried to punch the wolf in the throat but that didn’t de­ter it. As the wolf tugged the po­lice of­ficer out of the tent, his wife grabbed his leg and tried to pull him back.

The scream­ing woke up the Fees who were camp­ing nearby. Russ’s wife handed him a lan­tern and he sprin­ted to­ward the noise. The Calgary res­id­ent saw what looked like a large dog and us­ing the mo­mentum of his run, kicked it in the hindquar­ters. The an­im­al let go of Matt but didn’t leave.

With blood run­ning down his arm, Matt crawled out of the ruined tent, bran­dish­ing a tent pole. The two men threw rocks from the fire circle and yelled at the wolf un­til it backed off enough for the Rispole fam­ily and Russ and his wife to seek sanc­tu­ary in the Fee vehicle. The wolf fol­lowed Matt but the two men were able to keep it at bay.

Wolves are of­ten wary of people but can be curi­ous or even bold. They have entered tents — with and without people in them — but un­til this at­tack at Banff National Park, have al­ways been at­trac­ted to food or per­son­al be­long­ings of people — not the people them­selves. Although the wolf in this photo taken by Paul Sokoloff on Ellesmere Island did dam­age the tent, no people were injured.

Both fam­il­ies were badly shaken by the or­deal and Matt is re­cov­er­ing from bite marks and punc­ture wounds to his hand and arm. The next day a park em­ploy­ee found a wolf about a kilo­metre (half mile) from the at­tack site. When he got out of his vehicle the wolf ap­proached him and was shot and killed. DNA re­vealed it was the wolf that had at­tacked Matt.

Although wolves have at­tacked people in two Canadian pro­vin­cial parks and else­where in Canada, this is the first doc­u­mented wolf at­tack in a Canadian na­tion­al park. And the in­cid­ent has wild­life of­fi­cials some­what puzzled. There were no sig­ni­fic­ant at­tract­ants in or near the tent at the Rampart Creek Campground and no re­ports of a food-con­di­tioned or ha­bitu­ated wolf in the area, which are the primary cause of neg­at­ive human/​wolf in­ter­ac­tions in North America.

Results of a nec­ropsy de­scribed the con­di­tion of the wolf as old, ex­tremely ema­ci­ated (35 kg/​78 pounds) and with worn teeth. Unless fur­ther evid­ence of a conditioned/​habituated wolf comes to light, the mo­tiv­a­tion for this pred­at­ory at­tack ap­pears to be starvation.

The Rispoles and Fee did everything right. They made lots of noise, ag­gress­ively fought back and got to a safe place. Based on evid­ence avail­able at the time of this post­ing, this was an ex­tremely un­usu­al situ­ation that no one could have foreseen.

Two tools that may   have stopped the al­ter­ca­tion soon­er are bear spray and/​or a fixed blade knife. (It’s il­leg­al for any­one oth­er than staff to carry fire­arms in Banff National Park.)

There have been some com­plaints about the wolf be­ing shot. But, the real­ity is, the wolf would have been a danger to any hu­man it en­countered. And shoot­ing it meant a quick death, rather than a long, linger­ing one.

This un­for­tu­nate in­cid­ent is a good re­mind­er to be pre­pared when in wild areas and that wolves are large, strong pred­at­ors that can, on oc­ca­sion, be dan­ger­ous to humans.