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Biologist documents wolf attacks

Posted: Friday, November 03, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- An Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist's review of wolf attacks on people challenges the notion that healthy wolves don't attack humans.

Mark McNay, a Fairbanks-based fur-bearer biologist, gave a preview of his ongoing study to the Board of Game this week.

McNay recommended the panel examine past instances of wolf aggression when considering proposals to manage the animals in areas where they come into contact with people.

Although case history shows wolves can be aggressive toward humans, actual attacks are rare, he said.

''Have they actually bitten people? Have they been a problem in some contexts? The answer to that is yes -- but rarely,'' McNay said.

The question of whether wolves pose a threat to human life became a hot issue after a wolf attacked a 6-year-old boy near Yakutat in April, biting him three times.

Advocates of more aggressive predator control pointed to the attack as proof that wolves can be a threat to life and property. Advertisements featuring the boy are running as part of a campaign against a ballot measure that would restore a voter-imposed ban on same-day airborne hunting that was relaxed by the Legislature this year.

''No one is saying it could frequently happen -- none of us have said that,'' said Jess Vanderzanden of the Alaska Outdoor Council. ''But the fact it did happen means it is a legitimate concern.''

McNay told the game board such aggressive attacks are rare and there are no known cases of a healthy wolf killing a person. He made the comments after analyzing 28 documented cases of wolf aggression toward people in Alaska and Canada.

Five incidents involved wolves with rabies or thought to be rabid. Of the remaining 23, McNay's preliminary findings show the most serious attacks came from wolves that had grown used to people.

In 10 cases, wolves habituated to humans aggressively bit people in parks, recreational sites or industrial areas, such as logging camps.

His findings show wolves that were not used to humans attacked one adult and two children, but in nine other human encounters, the wild animals did not bite.

''Most often those involved a rapid approach or a false charge, primarily in defense of dens or rendezvous sites,'' McNay said.

Most of the cases analyzed in the study happened after the 1960s. But one instance dates to 1890 and another to 1915. Walter Sampson, a game board member from Kotzebue, said his grandfather was attacked by a wolf and Sampson wondered why his case wasn't included.

McNay said it was difficult to include all instances of wolf aggression toward people because victims don't always report the encounters.

He said he's still trying to track down other cases to include in a final report.

Wildlife activist Joel Bennett said the fact the department could find only 28 examples of aggressive wolf behavior in Alaska and Canada supports his argument that wolf attacks on people are so rare they are a non-issue.

''I'd say if there were a dozen wolf attacks (a year), that would begin to wake people up,'' said Bennett, a sponsor of the ballot measure to ban same-day-airborne hunting of wolves.

At least two hunting guides in the audience agreed wolves do not pose a serious threat to human life. Jim Harrower, a guide from Anchorage, said his concern is the threat the predators pose to moose and caribou, not people.

''They may be a threat to my dogs at some point, but I don't think they're a threat to me,'' Harrower said.

11/2/0 5:02 PM Inches: 8.2 REGULAR BC-AK-BearKilled 11-02 0342

BC-AK--Bear Killed,347

Juneau Police kill fifth black bear of season

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Juneau Police Department killed its fifth black bear of the season Thursday after the animal broke down a wooden fence to get to garbage.

The bear, a small boar weighing about 150 pounds and 2 or 3 years old, was first reported about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday trying to eat garbage at a trailer park near the police station.

Police frightened it out of the area, but it returned at 1:13 a.m. and aggressively broke down a wooden fence as it attempted again to get to garbage, said Capt. Thomas Porter Jr..

''From the information I have received so far, garbage was his obvious intent,'' Porter said. ''The concern of the officers was that people were starting to show up and watch; they were concerned for their safety.''

Officers first used pepper spray, which failed to drive the bear off, Porter said. Officers then tried to scare the animal away with large firecrackers called seal bombs, but failed again.

''It was obvious the bear wasn't showing any kind of reluctance about being close to human beings. So they shot him,'' Porter said.

He said citations for improper securing of garbage were being considered in the incident.

In another incident late Wednesday, a bear was reported chasing a man at a shopping center. A woman switched on her high beams and charged the bear with her car, Porter said.

The bear climbed a tree and retreated into the woods, Porter said. Porter said the man told officers he didn't think the bear was chasing him.

Police found a trash bin full of food nearby and coated it with pepper spray. The bear never returned.

Bears should be going into winter hibernation very soon as days get shorter and the weather cools, said Neil Barten, area management biologist for Fish and Game.

However, he said bears that can find a ready supply of food -- such as a garbage -- will stay awake longer.

Bears previously were shot by police this season on July 27, Sept. 2, Sept. 7, and Sept. 20.



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