The Native People of Alaska are dealing with issues only those of us in the lower 48 states hear about in movies or read about in the papers. Besides global warming melting the icy foundations their villages are built upon, one village is dealing with rabid wolves roaming the area, attacking their sleigh dogs and posing a threat to children.
According to Nick Andrew, Jr., Tribal Administrator for the Ohogamiut Traditional Council, people in the Southwestern Alaska town of Marshall are very concerned about the likelihood of a widespread rabies outbreak based on the fact that approximately 25 dogs were directly and indirectly affected by the wolf attacks.
"People here are on alert status, parents or guardians are escorting their children to and from school, and all children are ordered to be home before dark for their safety," Andrew stated in a public notice.
Wolves were reported near the village, and people are concern that others in the wolf pack have rabies and may attack again targeting more dogs and even humans.
Three sled dog yards were attacked by wolves on October 25, 2007. Alex Evan who lives in close proximity to all three kennels began hearing the dogs barking wildly and fighting for their lives at about 7:30 P.M.
Tests performed by the Alaska State Virology Laboratory (ASVL) confirmed a 17 month old female wolf, which was killed by a resident of the village, was positive for rabies virus.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Wildlife Veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen said it is possible other wolves in the pack have the disease as well.
"Rabies virus is present in saliva, and when several animals eat from the same source, the virus can be quickly spread to other members of the pack," Dr. Beckmen said. "However, rabies is extremely rare in wolves in Alaska."
Clem Kameroff whose dogs were also attacked mentioned hearing all the commotion during the same timeframe. It was later that evening that it was confirmed that wolves had attacked the dogs when Tony Boliver, whose dogs were also attacked, found a female dog and all the pups dead along with 11 or more bloodied dogs.
Following Boliver, another resident later found two of his sled dogs injured from the wolf attack. By approximately 8:30 P.M., yet another villager's dogs were attacked near a wooded area which provided cover for the marauding wolves.
According to Andrew, local men armed themselves to protect the sled dogs and the community. During the hours to follow the men noticed the wolves had no real fear of them and at times ran within a few feet of them.
"Within the next few days wolves were sighted around the village wandering on the roads and near homes. People were basically baffled about this odd behavior of the wolves and many expected the worst," said Andrew.
In the press release, Andrews stated that a local Yup'ik Eskimo Elder Paul Boots informed him that wolves are highly intelligent.
"They send a few pack members out to scout out hunting areas, and later come as a pack," he said.
Not all dog owners in rural Alaska have access to required immunization shots causing a fear of a rabies outbreak in the village. But dog mushers (owners of the sleigh dogs) are known to keep their dogs chained, inspite of animal rights activists claiming it as "inhumane.
Uncertainty is our biggest fear, at this time we don't know the extent of the spread of rabies because rabies is spread through bites and saliva.
Many unvaccinated dogs that were exposed to the wolves have been euthanized. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) Division of Public Health (DPH) advises dog owners in Marshall that if their dogs were previously vaccinated to have them revaccinated immediately, and then confine and observe them for 45 days to make sure they don't come down with the disease.
According to reports, only 18 wolves have tested positive for the disease in Alaska since 1977. The last confirmed case occurred in 1998 in a wolf from the Dillingham area. The disease is more commonly found in foxes in coastal areas, and some 35 animals have tested positive for rabies since 2006, along the west coast and North Slope of Alaska. As a result, efforts were made to vaccinate dogs in several Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta villages in 2007.
Villagers wanted the public to know that dog mushers and other pet owners are not negligent, nor do they purposely overlook immunizing their dogs. All dogs and cats were regularly vaccinated in the past when Marshall had the presence of a Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO).