Wolves (2) How to fight them off

Recently, I wrote about how Candice Berner, a thirty two year old special education teacher was killed by wolves as she jogged along a road outside Chignik Lake, a remote village in south western Alaska. It was the first ever fatal wolf attack in Alaska where between 7,700-11,200 wolves are resident. There has only been one fatal attack in the rest of North America, where between 50,000-60,000 wolves are resident. This was a man who regularly fed the wolves near his campsite.

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Last time it emerged that Ms Berner’s slight, almost childlike build would have been attractive to the wolf. So too was the fact that she was out jogging. A running target always brings out the worst in any predator.

Her listening to music on a headset was thought by her father to be contributory, but was actually discounted because wolves are less noisy than the wind anyway.
A recent TV programme on Animal Planet also made one or two important points about this attack. They visited Chignik Lake and discovered that Ms Berner went running every day at the same time. This did not make it particularly difficult for any predator. The first thing every politician at risk of assassination is told is to vary their routine as much as possible. Ms Berner, they said, ran past the town dump, where both wolves and bears would routinely come to scavenge. As I said in a previous article, the local dump is a good way to habituate predators to humans. To show them how human scent equals food. If people take no notice of the predators’ presence, then they will gradually lose their innate fear of humans.

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The locals at Chignik Lake considered the dump too dangerous a place to go. Most significantly, the TV reporters found that Candice Berger was the only person in Chignik Lake ever to go jogging outside the town. The locals at Chignik Lake considered this activity far too dangerous, although their primary fear was that of bears, who can chase you at a steady 35 mph. Hard luck Usain Bolt, tootling along at a pathetic 27 mph. The bear population around Chignik Lake was very high.

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The road out of Chignik Lake ran along the side of a hill, and as it curved, Ms Berner’s tracks made a sharp U-turn. This was thought to be the point at which she first noticed the wolves. She was running westwards and the wind was blowing from the west so the wolves may have had her scent blown towards them for some considerable time. Presumably, after she had turned sharply away, this provoked a predatory response. Either one or two wolves chased her, while a third ran higher than the road and then swooped down to either knock her down or cause her to slip over. The place she fell had bloodstains with a second depression three or four yards away as she fell for the second time. She had fled about fifty yards from the place where she first apparently turned away from the wolves. She then tried to crawl away but the wolves dragged her down the slope. By now she was in a very bad way. She finally succumbed in a clearing ten yards from the road. The fight was a very brief one and she died quickly. Her body was then dragged thirty yards to an area of small bushes. Blood on the road led to the discovery of her body, and later that night a wolf returned to drag it a further twenty yards downhill.

Nine sets of wolf tracks were found but the Fish and Game Department said that only four or five wolves had been involved.

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The Fish and Game Department then culled eight wolves within thirty miles of the attack site. The DNA from one of these wolves was found on the young woman’s body, but a second wolf who left DNA was never found. As always seems to be the case, the evidence of three or four other lots of DNA was impossible to prove.
I have researched exactly what happened in some detail because this attack was, at this time at least, totally unique.
As we have seen, the townspeople seemed deeply worried about the attack, by a member, or members, of a protected species. The Director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance said that those who wanted to be allowed into the area around the town to kill all the wolves they could find were just:

“A lot of people who want to be macho and go out there and kill animals.”

Perhaps the last words should go to the poor young woman’s father:

“They were just doing what wolves do. Their nature happened to kill my daughter but I don’t have any anger towards wolves.”

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So what should you do? Well, the expert in my last article said that you should:

Never feed wolves

Don’t let them become habituated to humans (by leaving them a rubbish tip to visit, presumably)

If confronted by a wolf, don’t run

Face the animal, make yourself appear as large as possible

Yell

Wave your arms

Throws stones or other objects

Resist any attack

I would personally, if I were American, carry a revolver, one of those that Clint Eastwood carries, and learn how to use it for my own self defence:

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And if all else fails, I would try to climb a tree.
The Candice Berner case was notable as being the first fatal wolf attack in North America in which DNA evidence was gathered to confirm wolf involvement.

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30 Comments

Filed under Criminology, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

30 responses to “Wolves (2) How to fight them off

  1. I recall, on my first trip to the United States as a young student, being told how to tell the difference between a brown bear and a grizzly bear. In essence, climb a tree. A brown bear will shake you down and a grizzly will follow you up. No such problem with a wolf, at least. What a great blog.

    • Thanks very much for your kind words. Wolves get a very bad press and they are essentially relatively harmless. Bears are a lot more formidable opponent and in the time the wolves have killed two people, the bears have killed closer to 500. None of that, of course, is anywhere near the motor car!

  2. It’s a cautionary tale. If we are to successfully share our environment with wild animals, we really should learn to respect them or suffer the consequences. An interesting post with some great advice John, though I shouldn’t like to have to put any of it into practice!

    • No, neither would I! It’s a great pity that we find it so difficult to share our space with wild animals. Everybody seems to like them so much if TV channels are anything to go by!

  3. Difficult to climb a tree after crapping yourself!

    • At least you’ve got something to throw. If you really want to scare yourself, take a look at “Bear Attacks: Their Causes And Avoidance” by Herrero. It contains such handy hints as “You’re wasting your time climbing a tree. Nobody has ever survived a bear attack that way. A lot of park rangers in the USA carry Magnums and I don’t mean ice cream!

      • I always like that piece of advice about lying down and pretending to be dead! Do you think that would work?

      • I believe that with bears it is the only thing that has ever worked. You’re wasting your time trying to fight it. Climbing a tree is pointless, and so is hiding in a vehicle from what I’ve read. Sprays can be effective I believe, but I would always carry a spare!

      • I have always been scared of bears since watching the Clint Walker film ‘Night of the Grizzly’ (1966). Cheyenne Body was always one of my favourite TV westerns.

  4. When out on a run passing dodgy dogs I always slowed to a walk.

    • When running in Portugal I was surprised by a rather ferocious mongrel that ran at me from under a beach hut, baring its teeth. I overcame this, and rather alarmed a local peasant woman, by throwing my arms wide and shouting “F*** OFF” at the top of my voice. It seemed to do the trick b

    • You are very wise to do so. Dogs are much more dangerous than wolves statistically. Ands cows have their moments too. Quite often they will want to chase a running figure, especially heifers.

  5. Hope I never have to put your advice to us.

    • I’m sure you won’t! Sadly, all the incidents seem to have been foreseeable. In many states, for example, don’t go to the town dump because you may meet a bear. It’s not really any different from the fact that I would avoid going to certain areas of Nottingham. They can be dangerous, pure and simple.

  6. Poor girl, goes out to stay in shape and ends up being dinner. I seriously dislike jogging, so I think I’m safe.

  7. I applaud the father’s point of view.

    • Yes, it is the correct attitude in my point of view too, but it must have been so very difficult for him not to be overflowing with ideas of revenge. If only she had asked the locals where and when to jog. I bet her Dad too often thinks that even if she had only had asked him, she might be around today.

  8. Valuable advice John. I shall carry it with me every time I go shopping!

  9. Good article and advice John. I can tell you first hand from living in Canada how dangerous such encounters can be.

    • Lower down, I recommended “Bear Attacks: Their Causes And Avoidance” by Herrero. To be honest, what this book does is to emphasise strongly that if the bear wants to kill you and you are unarmed, it probably will do unless it just loses interest. The causes of attacks are always very interesting and carefully worked out, but avoiding them is a lot more difficult!

  10. High grades to her father having a tragedy still fresh to deal with to say what he said. Maybe she could have done things differently but I suspect it was a terrifying few seconds for her with few options. I hope if placed in a similar situation I will remember your blog but I hope even more than I am placed in such a situation and I hope her soul rests in peace and that her family can find some peace too about your young life being cut short.

  11. Ted

    When I was in the military 30 miles south of Fairbanks, Alaska in the 1960’s. The one State rule was – you had to carry a 44 calibre plus gun. Not for the wolves or bears, but the Wolverine, which would drop silently from a tree and rip you to pieces. I’d seen one destroy a Grizzly in less than 30 seconds, a human would last less than 5 seconds. Very territorial and the only animal known to hunt and kill man but not eat him. Outside it’s patch, you were okay.

    Other than that Alaska was great, just had to be a bit careful and use a bit of common sense, that’s all.

    • Thanks you so much for your fascinating reply. As it comes from a witness, it counts for so much more. In the last couple of years over here in Britain, wolverines have emerged on a number of occasions from container ships and just disappeared into the woods. There were two in Durham in the north east, and one in south Wales. I’ll contact you if I here any rumours of their breeding!

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