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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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:
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.