A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters In Alaska and Canada

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by Mark E. McNay

Executive Summary

Currently there are an estimated 59,000 – 70,000 wolves (Canis lupus) in Alaska and Canada. Past reviews of wolf-human interactions concluded that wild, healthy wolves in North American present little threat to human safety. However, since 1970 some cases have appeared in the published literature documenting wolf aggression toward people. A wolf attack on a 6-year-old boy near Icy Bay, Alaska in April 2000 generated debate in Alaska that challenged previous assumptions regarding the potential danger of wolves to people. At that time there was no recently compiled record of wolf-human encounters for either Alaska or Canada.

To provide a current perspective on wolf-human interactions, I compiled a case history that describes 80 wolf-human encounter in which wolves showed little fear of people. I obtained cases from biologists and law enforcement officers in Alaska and Canada, from public health records, from the published literature, and from interviews with private citizens who witnessed the events. I classified the 80 cases into 7 behavioral categories: 1) Agonism, 2) Predation, 3) Prey Testing or Agonistic Charges, 4) Self-defense, 5) Rabies, 6) Investigative Searches, and 7) Investigative Approaches.

Patterns of wolf behavior described in this case history provide a reference for management of wolves where frequent wolf-human encounters occur. 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 nonaggressive wolves. In 6 cases in which healthy wolves acted aggressively, the people were accompanied by dogs. Aggressive, nonrabid wolves bit people in 16 cases; none of those bites were life-threatening, but in 6 cases the bites were severe.<<<To read or download the entire report, please follow this link to a PDF file>>>