I try to learn something from every animal (and Human) encounter I experience. In fact, I try to learn everything possible from every incident. Whenever I have any encounter with any bear, wolf, moose, caribou, lynx, fox, coyote, raven, eagle, even domestic dogs and ptarmigan, etc. I go over it in my mind and review every factor and every movement that took place during what are sometimes extremely brief encounters. I try to figure out, based on the sequence of events, what the motivations of the animal might have been and how my presence and movements and my dogs affected the animal.
I also study all reports on every animal encounter in the news---especially tragic ones. That’s why I am researching, studying and investigating every facet of the very unusual first verified killing of a Human being by wolves in Alaska.
I will speak of the attack itself---but first, while I was researching the tragic killing of the teacher, Candice Berner, by two or three wolves in Chignik, I learned something about my fellow Alaskans. Judging by some of the comments on various blog sites, about half were shrieking, squealing fraidy-cats with a streak of senseless violence and self-righteous vengeance. Finally, an actual Human was actually killed by wolves in Alaska. Strolling through various web sites I found typical remarks such as “kill all the wolves.” Lots of references to the indiscriminate use of “guns.”
“And those animal rights people thought they were so cuddly and cute.”
And there were many remarks about how justified we Humans had been all along to gun down wolves from aircraft, helicopters and catch them in traps. What a gift to “intensive” predator control hysteria. Now it’s open season on all wolves because too many Alaskans have been scared witless by an attack from an animal which most of them have never seen.
I am not apologizing for or excusing the wolves for anything. I have no illusions about wolves. I’m guessing all this hysterical fear displayed by my fellow Alaskans is partly an evolutionary holdover from a time when our Human ancestors were, indeed, regularly killed by wild predators in all sorts of situations. And the observable fact that my fellow Humans in Alaska are completely tamed and domesticated by their soft, coddled, civilized and completely unnatural lifestyles.
So, finally, one Human gets killed by wolves and some of my fellow Alaskans go literally and figuratively ballistic. Shrieking like school girls! No---that’s an insult to school girls who often show more courage. I’ve met many diminutive girls and ladies in Alaska who showed extraordinary courage and zest for life. Small in stature but willing and daring to try anything. Arctic adventurer and traveler, Alaska’s Pam Flowers, comes to mind. Ladies like her have more raw courage than many of the big strutting, boasting males with their big guns and their big machines to haul them around.
Candice Berner’s parents understood their daughter well and I am sorry for their loss. They seek no retribution for the wolves who were ”just being wolves.”
But I have no illusions about wolves and would not be so magnanimous. As in the case of most bear attacks---caused by Humans surprising the animal---I would agree with Ms. Berner‘s parents. However, in cases where predation was the motive for the attack, I would say that the animals should be dispatched. These particular wolves do, clearly, present a danger to all small Humans traveling alone.
Now, let’s study the incident in more detail to see what lessons can be learned. Why would wolves want to eat a Human? And, more to the point, how did this particular Human fall victim?
It was reported that the local caribou population had “crashed,” leaving the wolves hungry and desperate. Again, I’m not offering this as an excuse but rather, as just another factor in the incident.
No one, so far, has suggested that the wolves wiped out all the caribou---it’s my guess that Human overhunting, as has happened in so many other areas, could just as well have crashed the caribou population and ruined the “subsistence living“ for the wolves. The fact remains---many caribou that once were abundant in the area are no longer.
A CHANCE TO SURVIVE -
I don’t mean to blame the victim, Ms. Berner. However, if we don’t draw some obvious lessons from this incident, then we are not rational Human beings capable of learning from the mistakes of others.
Nor do I mean to draw a definitive conclusion---but for the purpose of learning something from this incident it doesn’t really matter. In that spirit I would suggest that the temporary disabling of the sense of hearing caused by an iPod probably enabled the wolves to creep or run close enough to completely surprise the hapless jogger. Had she heard her would-be attackers, stopped jogging, turned to face them, began screaming and waving her arms, throwing rocks (even the iPod), it seems quite plausible to me that the wolves would have had second thoughts and aborted their attack---just as wolves in Alaska must have done hundreds or more times previously since they have never actually killed anyone before!
That’s just a scenario. Maybe these wolves would not have been deterred. I don’t know but it just sounds plausible. In other words, having an early warning could have alerted the jogger whose actions could then have scared off the wolves.
JOGGING AND WILDERNESS RUNNING TO ONE’S OWN DEATH -
I’ve spoken of this before---Humans who run through the wilderness or jog along lonely roads and trails can not only surprise dangerous wild animals but they can also appear as something to eat.
One evening, I had dropped in on my neighbor and her visiting sister from out of state. Later that night, as I was walking my dogs, my animals and I suddenly became alert as we heard a rumbling of what sounded like hoof beats coming down the power line right-of-way. I felt a thrill of fear because it was fairly close, hidden by brush, approaching rapidly and could have been a charging moose.
It turned out to be the visiting sister doing her late night jogging. She was not a heavy woman---but the sounds of her running, the vibrations from the ground and the suddenness of it all, scared the crap out of me and my dogs. My blood was up and my heart was racing!
In my opinion, every female who ventures forth alone in the city or the country should carry a pistol. I know it’s a hassle while jogging but there are some pretty light .38s, .380s and even 9mms (adequate for Humans and wolves) and some pretty good shoulder holsters to keep the gun’s flopping around to a minimum. My guess is that Ms. Berner, like so many of the gutsy ladies I know, just decided or never thought about packing heat. Just imagine the difference in the following scenario if the victim had been armed and had enough warning to pull the thing out.
THE ATTACK -
Now, picture and visualize and recreate the possible sound-and-sight scenario of Candice Berner, jogging along a deserted road, all alone, a small figure. If you have ever heard caribou moving along you will realize the similarity of the jogging Human figure to a caribou. Maybe a small caribou. Maybe even a slightly crippled caribou. Certainly more than enough to attract the attention of any nearby animal---especially a predator.
Now, put yourself in the poor lady’s jogging shoes. She is trying to stay in shape---probably concentrating on her running. She has her head full of music and can’t hear anything else. The wolves begin the stalk or the chase. Maybe they wonder why they haven’t been heard and spotted so they move in closer.
And there is the lone, diminutive figure---an easy mark. They attack and drag her down. Maybe they don’t even really want to eat this particular kind of meat but now the blood is up! She is a strong women with a will to live. She fights bravely but vainly. The wolves become absolutely ferocious and relentless once blood has been drawn and the victim struggles. Now there is no stopping the inevitable.
This, to me, is a most likely scenario---that, due to the temporary disabling of a most fundamental sensory awareness, the hearing, the wolves gained the element of surprise that could well have meant the difference between the lady’s survival and her death.
Let’s assume that Candice Berner was actually wearing the iPod that was found with her. To me, that means she not only had obstructions stuck in her ears blocking sounds in the immediate environment, but there was also noise being blasted into her ears. The eyes follow the sound---but in this case the connections between the sense of hearing and the sense of sight were short-circuited.
Carry a pistol and leave the stupid iPod home! Candice Berner wasn’t stupid---she just didn’t know. She didn’t realize the danger posed by wild animals to small, solitary Humans. She didn’t realize that she should have had all her senses alert. She didn’t realize the value of even a small pistol in such instances.
I have to wonder how many female joggers have made it easier for their Human or animal attackers by having their hearing disabled with those infernal music machines that block out all sounds of surroundings. And I’m willing to bet that a Human male or two has facilitated his own mugging by disabling his own sense of hearing and making a surprise attack that much easier.
NO ILLUSIONS -
I may be of the opinion that most “intensive” predator-control in Alaska is Human-induced hysteria but, like I said, I’ve never had any illusions about wolves or any other wild animal. I’ve met a few wolves. A wolf came within a measured 25 feet during my most interesting encounter on the far side of Eklutna Lake 26 years ago.
There was no trail and I was sitting on a rise eating a sandwich when my Siberian husky and I simultaneously heard something behind a nearby mound. It was one of the wolves we had been hearing from our camp at night, giving that great bellowing bark that wolves sometimes emit.
The wolf was probably drawn by the smell of the sandwich and the presence of Rachel, a really beautiful and wise, purebred Siberian husky. If it had been a bear my dog would have swung off to the side to draw the bear away from me as she had done so often. But this time she stuck close, knowing full well the wolf could have run her down in an instant.
Even before I knew what it was behind that mound, the dog was alert, I was on my feet and my pistol was in my hand.
The wolf came closer, clearly curious and probably hungry---although his huge body looked exactly like a huge, cylindrical stuffed sausage. He came close and then moved away. I talked to him and he looked back. Then he moved off deeper into the woods. Sorry, wolf-haters, but it was a thrilling and beautiful encounter.
If my 50 pound dog had been off by herself she might well have been instantly killed by the wolf, whose track I measured at a full five inches wide. The chances of myself being attacked were, as we can all figure out statistically, near-zero. Nevertheless, I did have the gun handy.
I’ve said it before and will again---the best preparation I’ve had for surviving in the wilderness were the lessons learned roaming the streets of New York City. Stay alert. Look around and look up (that’s why gang-bangers wear their baseball caps with the visors in back---so they can spot the bricks, cinder blocks, TVs, etc. thrown down at them from windows and rooftops).
And listen! Even in the noisy city there is a rhythm that is interrupted by the unusual and the dangerous presence. In wilderness the most subtle presence can induce a variation in the awareness and warn of something unusual. It may be the slightest ripple in the background but it will be enough to bring the mind, the body and all the senses fully alert.
So, leave the stupid iPod at home, carry the biggest pistol you can manage and always stay alert.
And by the way, when it comes to the use of the gun and other weapons, the wise commander of great armies and the lone jogger alike, should have, as their primary goal, the judgment and nerve not to use the weaponry unless absolutely necessary and as determined by a clear mind unclouded by hysteria. The aim is not to use the damned things because indiscriminate use of weapons just causes worse problems.
Note: I am always suspicious of any Human reports that they have seen wolves "kill for fun" simply because the "observer" (much as in quantum physics) can alter the outcome by easily driving the wolves off their kill and then coming to the false conclusion that they are "wasting meat." [Unlike a bear which may stay to defend its meal.] Still, wolves are playful and I don't doubt they chase down and kill animals when there is plenty to eat.[Just like Humans.] Which is apparently not the case now. - RW