Tag Archives: Candice Berner

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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Wolves (the animal not the football club)

When I wrote about the Beast of Gévaudan, I came to the conclusion that the ferocious creature was a previously unknown type of wolf:

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For some unknown reason, it was being forced westwards from its normal habitat of the Polish or Russian primeval forests such as Białowieża. If ancient bison could live there, so could something even more prehistoric:

rejigged bison

At the time I did research the likelihood that the Beast was an ordinary wolf or wolves but I rejected that as a theory because I did not think that wolves would eat human beings.
It would be dishonest, however, not to make it patently clear that in the past, wolves certainly have eaten people but they don’t seem to now. Why should this be?
Firstly, extremes of weather centuries ago, more severe than what we have now, may have lead to a situation where wolves either ate any available prey items or just died. This would account for the Wolves of Paris which I have previously discussed:

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In actual fact they may also have acquired a taste for human flesh by eating corpses. Apparently, until as late as 1820, corpses in France were frequently thrown into open charnel pits. Presumably, these were paupers, drunks, stillborn babies, in short, anybody dead without the money for a funeral. And it is not outrageous to presume that this lovely way to dispose of the late dearly departed might have taken place in neighbouring countries too. An unfortunate situation that taught wolves to associate the scent of Man with a full belly.
If the hungry wolf wanted a better quality of prime human meat, young, and blood drippingly fresh, the best place was the battlefield straight after the battle. Once the local peasantry had stripped the bodies of everything valuable, they were not buried, but were gradually eaten by the ravens and other corvids, the eagles, both golden and especially white-tailed, and most of all, the local wolf pack.
This association of human flesh, its scent and taste, with a full stomach, was a recipe for disaster when wolves came across, say, lone travellers or children picking berries deep in the woods. And don’t forget. In France the peasantry were forbidden to own firearms to reduce the admittedly tiny risk of a blood spattering revolution.
Nowadays, the situation is completely different. Admittedly France had 7,600 fatal attacks by wolves between 1200–1900 but there has been nothing since. Italy has a population of wolves but without any fatal attacks on humans since 1945 and no attacks by wolves since the eradication of rabies in the 1960s.

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In the Baltic states, where rabies is still allowed to exist, just under a hundred people were bitten between 1992-2000 in Latvia and Lithuania, although the statistics are muddied somewhat in Estonia by the locals’ love for wolf-dog hybrids and keeping wolves captive on their properties.
And what about North America?

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Well, in 2002, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stated that there had been no human deaths in North America attributed to wild, healthy wolves since at least 1900. Concerns were caused though, when, on April 26th, 2000, a six year-old boy was attacked by a wolf in Icy Bay, Alaska. He was not killed, but then, on November 8th 2005 the body of Kenton Carnegie was found in northern Saskatchewan. He had died from “injuries consistent with a wolf attack.” The local wolves had apparently lost their fear of him because he fed them regularly.

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To increase the risk, natural food was scarce in the area at the time and four wolves had been feeding on rubbish tips in the previous weeks. They were no longer scared by human activities. On November 4th, two of Kenton’s fellow campers clashed with two extremely aggressive wolves. Zoologists have now said that this was probably an “exploratory attack” just to see how difficult it was to kill a human being. Another perhaps more serious attack was imminent.
On the day of his demise, Kenton ignored warnings from his companions and went for a walk in the woods. It took the Coroners’ jury two years to rule out Black Bear, but their eventual verdict was “Death by Wolf”.

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f
On March 8th 2010, Candice Berner, a thirty two year old special education teacher who had only been in Alaska since the previous August was killed by two, perhaps three, wolves as she jogged along a road outside Chignik Lake. It was late afternoon.

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This was the first ever fatal wolf attack in Alaska. David Mech, a senior research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey has studied wolves for more than fifty years. He said:

“There have been about two dozen nonfatal attacks in North America in the past century or so. Most involve wolves that have become habituated to people who have been feeding them at campgrounds, dumps and other sites near wolf habitat.”

Ms Berner was only 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighed just over eight stones (c 112 pounds). David Mech said that her slight, almost childlike build, and the fact that she was running may have attracted the wolves, who, after all, are predators by nature:

“Wolves are very much like dogs in a lot of respects. Things that are running, they have tendency to want to chase them,”

 

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Ms Berner was thought to have been listening to music on a headset, but Dr Mech discounted this, as in his experience wolves move so silently that the wind is enough to mask their presence completely.

Whatever you think about wolves, the truth is that the inhabitants of the tiny village of Chignik Lake have lived alongside wild animals since time immemorial:

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This one attack has spooked all of the 73 inhabitants of the area, so remote that it can only be reached by aeroplane. The school’s stuffed wolf mascot had been there a good while, but now it has been kicked well into touch. The wolf badge of the school will also have to go if Virginia Aleck, a local woman, gets her way.
She said that everyone felt trapped in the village. None of the surrounding hills were considered safe anymore.  Nobody walked on their own and everybody carried a rifle.
Is this an over-reaction? Or are wolves just a part of living outside the big city? I’ll try to answer that question in a future article.

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