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.