Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Surprise Wolf Attacks

"The whole incident is unusual, very unusual."
"If, in fact, it was a wolf attack, it's way outside what we understand and [what] we know."
"Wolves rewrite the book on how they behave all the time. We don't really know everything about them."
Paul Paquet, mammalian biologist, Raincoast Conservation Foundation

"If a person gets attacked, it is likely that it is being tested by the wolf, to see if it might serve as prey."
"I am convinced that the animal would have attacked the kid if we hadn't intervened [in Yellowstone Park when a 'habituated' coyote stalked a five-year-old before being chased away]."
Dennis Murray, conservation biologist, Trent University

"Workers are encouraged to report all wildlife sightings to the site safety or environment departments at our operations."
"Scare cannons [ are used in instances of persistent wolves; Saskatchewan law permits] lethal means [to be used, as a last resort]."
Gord Struthers, Cameco representative
Mike Drew/Postmedia News
Mike Drew/Postmedia News     A young wolf near a picnic area on the Banff Parkway. In the past 12 years there have been three suspected wolf attacks on adult men near Saskatchewan’s Cigar Lake, site of a large uranium mine.

Recalling an incident that occurred at the Cigar Lake uranium mine in Saskatchewan on August 29, a mine representative explained: "A single wolf basically pounced on him". A security guard that night happened to hear what sounded like a scuffle at midnight that she took to be two men working at the uranium mine having an argument. When she got into her vehicle with the intention of intervening, her headlights identified a wolf, its jaws on the neck of a 26-year-old kitchen worker.

Her arrival frightened the wolf away, enabling her to render first aid.

Wolves around the Cigar Lake area have a reputation for following hikers, unafraid of being "visible" to people, where wolves normally make an effort to shield their presence from human eyes. Workers at the mine claim that wolves have made it a habit to follow work crews, watching their activities from the space of distant ridges. "They are absolutely huge ... they have no fear of man and come into the job sites often at night", said S.J. Rowe, formerly a worker at the mine.

And it seems that this particular mine is not unique in this way. There appears to be a discernible pattern evident across the region of northern Saskatchewan, home to countless mines as one of the world's most copious natural resources of uranium. Three suspected wolf attacks on adult men taking place within 100 kilometres of one another, within the range of a single wolf pack, are reputed to have occurred in the past twelve years.

Facebook/Chad Glyn Baggott
Facebook/Chad Glyn Baggott   A 2015 photo of a wolf at the Cigar Lake mine site. This particular animal is said to have "jumped" a worker, but was fended away by a blow from a backpack.

Cameco mine worker Fred Desjarlais was walking home on New Year's Eve of 2005 when a wolf suddenly lunged out of a ditch. The man reacted by grabbing the animal around its neck, holding tight until other workers came to help him. Kenton Carnegie, 22, a university student at a mining exploration camp was killed, at age 22, by what a coroner's jury determined to have been a wolf attack. Halfway between those two attacks is the location of the Cigar Lake mine.

Once wolves -- and bears -- lose their fear of the presence of humans as a threat to their existence, and begin to view them as a source of food linked to discarded food ending up as garbage, they are said to have become 'habituated' to the presence of people linking their presence with the easy availability of food. From there they become accustomed to roaming about nearby, without making an effort to hide their presence.

A natural outcome of that scenario is one that biologists speak of as the potential of an "exploratory attack", to determine if they can succeed in taking down a human as they would another large mammal, for food.

There is nothing new in this adaptation of wild animals to the presence of people. In the 15th century, Parisians were aware of the threats associated with wolf pack urban invasions "accustomed to eating human flesh", according to contemporary accounts. Banff and Jasper national parks are under continual pressure when wolves regard unattended campsites as their personal picnic grounds, leading Parks Canada to maintain a vigil at all hours to ensure that wolves do not venture where they should not.

Parks Canada
Parks Canada A grey wolf in Banff National Park.

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