A wolf chasing a bicyclist was struck and killed by a trucker along the Dalton Highway at Mile 79 last week, but it wasn't the same wolf that chased down and bit an Anchorage woman near the Arctic Circle 35 miles to the north a week earlier, according to state wildlife officials.
"It was two totally different deals," said state wildlife biologist and wolf expert Mark McNay with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks. "This was not the same wolf that bit the woman."
The wolf, a yearling female, was killed on July 20 about 150 miles north of Fairbanks. It was one of the smallest McNay has ever seen, weighing only 46 pounds.
"It was in very poor condition," he said. "It was basically starving."
The wolf tested negative for rabies, according to Fish and Game veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen.
Chances are good it is the same wolf that was involved in two other incidents reported in the same area, said McNay.
On July 7, the same day the wolf bit the woman near the Arctic Circle at Mile 115, a motorcyclist reported being chased by a wolf near Mile 75, McNay said. Ten days later, a wolf approached a bus load of tourists who were standing along the highway in the same area, he said.
The fact that the attack on Wanamaker at Mile 115 and the report of a wolf chasing a motorcycle at Mile 75 happened on the same day is proof that the two incidents involved separate wolves, said McNay.
Bicyclist Jacob Thompson of California, who is riding from the top of Alaska to the bottom of South America with two friends, encountered the wolf on Thursday as he was riding along the Haul Road at Mile 79. Thompson, 24, was about a mile ahead of his two companions when he heard a truck approaching from behind.
"The only reason I looked back was because I heard the trucker," said Thompson. "I saw the wolf jump out and start chasing me."
Thompson was going about 20 mph and the wolf was gaining on him.
"He was catching up to me real quick," said Thompson. "I thought I could outrun him at first, even though I know that's not what you're supposed to do, but I wasn't about to stop and get mauled."
Thompson and his two friends had heard about the July 7 attack on Becky Wanamaker, an Anchorage school teacher, before departing from Deadhorse on July 13. A wolf chased down Wanamaker as she was walking along the highway early in the morning and bit her twice in the legs before she was able to seek refuge in an Port-a-Pottie at the Arctic Circle Wayside.
The wolf was closing on Thompson when the trucker "just swiped him," according to the cyclist. It appeared the trucker deliberately hit the wolf, Thompson said, noting that the trucker didn't stop after the incident.
The wolf wasn't dead but it was in bad shape. One of its eyes had popped out and it couldn't move, Thompson said. The cyclists "finished it off" by cutting the wolf's throat with a knife, he said.
They reported the incident to an Alyeska security guard at the Yukon River Bridge. The Bureau of Land Management notified the Department of Fish and Game about the dead wolf and arranged for it to be sent to Fairbanks, according to Beckmen, who did a necropsy on the wolf over the weekend and found that its neck had been broken in the accident.
The necropsy also revealed that the wolf was carrying lice, Beckmen said. That's the farthest north lice has been documented in wolves in Alaska, according to McNay. Previously, Fairbanks was the farthest north that lice had been found in wolves.
Why the wolf chased a motorcycle and bicycle, as well as approach a bunch of tourists, is a question, said McNay. One possibility is that the wolf was previously fed by humans and learned to associate vehicles or people with food, he said.
"If other people had seen it and fed it, it could be the wolf was thinking, hey, there goes a meal; throw me something before you keep going," McNay said. "We just don't know. All we know is a wolf at that spot chased a motorcycle, chased a bicycle and approached a van full of tourists."
There's a chance the two young wolves could have dispersed from the same pack or the leaders of a pack were trapped and killed, leaving the pups to fend for themselves, said McNay. It's just as possible that the wolves are not related and it's a coincidence the incidents happened at the same time in the same general area.
There have been no further reports of a wolf being seen around the Arctic Circle Wayside where the woman was bitten, according to Lt. Gary Folger from the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement.
News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or firstname.lastname@example.org