It finally happened…
not that we wanted it to, but it was inevitable. North American
wolves killed a human. These weren’t captive or hybrid wolves—healthy
wild wolves killed a 22-year old Canadian man. In the following
essay, we’d like to cover what happened, the implications, and where
to go from here.
incident occurred in Saskatchewan,
at Points North, an industrial settlement
near Wollaston Lake. Kenton Carnegie, a 22 year old,
third-year geological engineering student, was two weeks into a
short-term contract with Sander Geophysics. The CBC
(Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) reported, “Friends and family
described him as a free spirit who loved music and enjoyed being
an artist as he pursued his dream of becoming an engineer.”
only a couple dozen people consistently populate Points North, located
270 miles north of La Ronge and 150 miles shy of the Northwest
Territories border, a bustling frontier
atmosphere pervades the camp that serves as a logistical hub. Tons
of supplies are trucked to Points North’s dirt landing strip and
then flown to remote mining outposts. Hundreds of workers pass through
the settlement on their way to an isolated mine or on their way
home from one. As is often the case in the resource extractive industries,
the work force consists of itinerant workers who live in the area
on a part-time basis; Points North is not a close-knit community.
All those people passing through produce tons of garbage that ends
up in an unlicensed, unfenced, and unattended dump about half a
mile from the camp on MinistryLand. “We’ve been working
with Points North for several years now trying to bring that landfill
into compliance,” said Deputy Environment Minister Lily Stonehouse.
Many of the region’s mining settlements either incinerate or secure
garbage in a landfill surrounded by electric fencing, but not Points
differ as to the events leading up to Kenton’s death. The CBC
stated, “The day before he died, he called his mother. He said there
had been wolves spotted in the area, although he had not seen one
himself. Among the documents CBC
obtained from the Environment Department is a set of photographs
showing wolves in close proximity to people around Points North—taken
by Carnegie’s co-workers a few days before he died. One picture
shows a tan and black wolf staring at a man with a stick a few metres away. Others show curious wolves standing their ground
with little apparent concern for the man with the camera a stone’s
throw away.” Kenton’s father, Kim, maintains serious doubts that
his son was warned about the potential danger presented by the habituated
wolves. He’s also upset that early reports portrayed Kenton as feeding
wolves or striving to be close to them. “He wasn’t out there trying
to sketch them or feed them, as some articles might have implied,
he was just going for a walk,” his father said. “He loved nature
and wanted to go look at the rocks in the bay.”
contrast, Outdoor Life (OL) stated that a couple of
days prior to the attack, Kenton and a friend encountered wolves
while on a hike and photographed them at close range. Kenton was
“curious but decidedly uneasy about their proximity.” On November 6th, according to OL Kenton and his buddy showed
the photos to half a dozen men in the mess hall. Writing
for OL, Andrew McKean quoted trucker Bill Topping, “I told
him he was lucky to be alive. I told him these wolves up here are
hungry and they don’t fear people. They thought it was something
to be that close to wolves.”
A few questions arise:
Did Kenton seek an encounter with wolves? If so, who could honestly
blame him; most of us feel excited about getting close to wildlife.
But it is a factor.
If the Outdoor Life account is accurate, did Topper express
his warning to Kenton in a condescending or alarmist manner? Did
Topper see Kenton as one of the ivory tower academicians that lacked
common sense? Did Kenton inwardly roll his eyes at Topper and the
other workers when he heard their big bad wolf stories? In other
words, did an educational caste system create a communication barrier?
The photo of the man with the stick standing a few feet from the
wolf would indicate that people engaged in a game of ‘See-how-close-I-can-get’
to the Points North garbage dump wolves. Is this the case?
November 8th at around , while daylight still lingered outdoors,
Kenton informed his field supervisor that he was headed out on a
walk and would return before dinner. Two hours later, a search party
found his body.
the CBC report, according to
Rosalie Tsannie, the provincial coroner
for the north, tracks in the snow tell the following story: “When
he was about a kilometre away from the
camp, on the edge of a frozen lake, a wolf appeared, following Carnegie’s
footsteps through the snow. Carnegie must have become aware of it—the
snow pattern showed he quickened his pace. One or two wolves moved
in from the side, as the first wolf tracked him from behind,’ Tsannie
said. ‘I believe he saw this wolf behind him. That’s when he thought
he would have been in trouble and started running. And just shortly
after that, about seven feet from there or less, the first scuffle
happened, and there’s about five [sites of scuffles] that led to
the point where the men had discovered his body.’ It was getting
dark when searchers found his remains. The wolves were still there,
close to the body, so the men retreated and called the RCMP.”
Photo that accompanies
Outdoor Life article: “Manhunters”.
This wolf is reacting to another wolf; not preparing to kill a human.
should the pro-wolf community react to Kenton’s death? To begin
with, we dispense with the “No-healthy-wild-wolf-in-North-America”
sound byte. No wait a minute, we could add more qualifiers: “No
healthy, wild, unhabituated wolf has ever
killed a human in North America.” And we
can continue from there: “No healthy, wild, unhabituated
wolf, with a pleasant disposition and positive attitude has ever
killed a human in North America unless he
or she deserved it.”
need to face up to the fact that wolves killed a human. Should we
seek to render Kenton’s death less shocking by hedging or offering
excuses for the wolves? Wolf advocates have tended to rally round
the fact that the Points North wolves were habituated. Nevertheless,
the fact remains that something the pro-wolf community continually
cited as having never happened, has happened—wolves killed a person.
It can happen, it did happen. Granted,
habituation plays a major role in this case. But habituated wolves
are part of the equation now and given the current state of things,
their numbers will increase.
we don’t make excuses for wolves or add more qualifiers. We do however
continue to investigate, explore, learn, and educate. Why did the
wolves kill Kenton, was the event an anomaly? Should we be alarmed?
Is it time to fear wolves?
know the Points North wolves fed extensively at an unfenced garbage
dump. But did people also leave food out in order to observe the
wolves, were the animals virtually hand fed? A wolf habituated with
garbage and food left out by workers attacked a boy in an Alaska
logging settlement. In the case of the Alaskan boy and Kenton, the
victim played no role in the habituation process; nevertheless they
paid dearly for the carelessness of others. And in both cases, wolves
ended up dead.. Habituation of wildlife leads to trouble and, most often,
the death of the habituated animal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a
deer, raccoon, wolf, marmot, or bear, they’re wild animals and we
need to treat them with respect and caution. If only for their own
safety, wild animals need to be wary of humans. Granted, in the
Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked with the animals and that was
a beautiful thing. But we’re not in the Garden anymore, some changes
have occurred since then.
too many people believe that if they love an animal, it will love
them back. Timothy Treadwell of grizzly bear fare comes to mind,
as does the photographer who thought the GlacierNational Park grizzly
bears he photographed could sense that he would use the photos for
their welfare. A mother grizzly killed him and in his final photos,
you can see all the classic warning signs of a bear cautioning him
to BACK OFF! before she charged. For such
people, the animal becomes a mirror that reflects the needs, wants,
and desires they project on it. Believing that an animal will reciprocate
the love you feel for it may occur with dogs—but it certainly doesn’t
occur with wildlife. This romanticized perception of nature proves
especially dangerous when projected on large species, be they wolves,
bears, or Bambi.
following are three simple guidelines regarding wolf habituation
recommended by the InternationalWolfCenter:
Do not feed wolves. Do not leave food outdoors, including pet food.
Do not offer food to wolves from a vehicle or a residence.
Do everything you can to avoid teaching wolves to not fear people.
Do not let wolves get close to you, and do not let them learn to
be comfortable in human-inhabited areas.
Report wolves that seek human food or frequent human areas to wildlife
officials. Do not take the law in your own hands. Wildlife officials
can teach problem wolves to avoid humans and, if necessary, kill
animals that cause severe problems.
we fear wolves? No, not if we maintain a sense of perspective. Wolves
have not been nor are they about to become the marauding savage
killers of folklore, fairy tale, legend, and story. “Mr. Carnegie’s
death is a terrible tragedy,” said wolf biologist Dave Mech, “but one fatal wolf attack in the recorded history of
North America does not warrant widespread
research turned up 26 incidents of nonfatal wolf attacks on this
continent. Two common elements pertain to these attacks: a majority
resulted in minor injuries and 80% (21 of the attacks) involved
food-habituated wolves. Also interesting to note:
all but five attacks occurred after 1970. During the past
three decades, the wolf population has grown, human numbers have
increased dramatically, and the wildland-urban
interface spreads ever outward as people continue to transform wildlands into backyards, homes, and gardens. “These were
habituated garbage eating wolves,” said Ed Bangs who coordinates
the gray wolf recovery effort in the northern Rockies
for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. “Wild wolves do their damnedest
to stay away from people.”
what’s to be done? “How can humans and wolves coexist in increasingly
human-dominated landscapes?” wrote wolf biologist Diane Boyd. “The
conundrum is that we have managed wolf recovery so successfully
that conflict situations arise more frequently. The challenge is
to avoid creating public fear of wolves, yet paint a realistic picture
of wolf behavior.” We can accomplish this through education coupled
Place the unfortunate death of Kenton in a broader perspective:
22 wolf attacks (this included the North Point incident) spread
over three-and-a-half decades, one of which resulted in the death
of a human, do not constitute a threat.
Don’t fall into the trap of defending very bold or aggressive wolves:
wolves are predators and people are constantly blundering into what
should be, but hasn’t been until recently, harm’s way. What’s amazing
is that wolves haven’t killed people prior to this, and done so
Follow the three guidelines previously listed. If you see people
habituating wolves, explain to them the error of their ways. (And
in doing so, don’t hop on a soapbox and admonish them. The goal
is impart knowledge and gain an ally.)
Inform those living in or about to inhabit the urban/wildland
interface the importance of securing garbage, fencing gardens, and
not leaving pet food outdoors where it will attract wildlife. It’s
not a case of wildlife moving down into the backyards of people,
it’s people that built houses in the front
yards of wildlife.
at Points North, a few days before Kenton died, shows wolves and
humans had been in close proximity. CBC Archive
Report habituated wolves to the proper authorities.
Adopt legislation that penalizes people who flagrantly habituate
Wildlife managers should work with writers and the media to spread
word about the jeopardy we place wildlife in when we habituate them.
Steve Grooms, writing for the InternationalWolfCenter,
pointed out: “We might need to introduce a limited amount of aggression
into wolf management plans. In other words, the price we must pay
to have wild wolves in North America might
be that we have to kill, trap, or at least seriously threaten wolves.”
The Biggest Hurtle
the most important and most difficult modification, we need a change
in mindset. We humans are legion. You might recall the aphorism,
“Subdue the earth and have dominion over it.” Well, we won—that
challenge is long past. If we value and desire wildness, we’re obliged
to safeguard what remains. Should we accept the role as sentries
of wildness, we can’t expect a reciprocal return. Wolves, rivers,
bears, mountains, banana slugs, glaciers, and trout—all things wild
are not about to like us because we like them. In order to protect
wildness, we need not anthropomorphize it—to do so denotes
a level of possession. Wildness is the antithesis of ownership.
Wildness is not a pretty picture in a book or a picnic in the park.
Wildness is untamed whitewater, beautiful to gaze upon but deadly
to swim. Wildness is the alpenglow on unnamed peaks from which avalanches
plunge. Wildness contains butterflies, mosquitoes, black flies,
mud, and the sweet vanilla scent of sun-baked ponderosa pine. Wildness
is a fawn bounding through a meadow one minute and in the jaws of
a mountain lion the next. Wildness is raw, real, dangerous, and
absolutely spiritual. The most valuable contribution we can make
to wildness, overall, is to leave it alone.
terms of wolves, we won’t be able to act so idealistically because,
in many places, we’re past the point of just leaving them alone.
We’ve moved in among them and they’ve moved in among us. Wildness
and civilization are about as easy to mix as oil and water. The
question arises, which do we tip the scale in favor of, humans or
the rest of life? The answer isn’t an easy ‘them or us’. It depends—we
examine conflicts and seek solutions on a case-by-case basis by
looking at possible causes, existing factors, and future implications.
And in deciding, we might do well to ask ourselves, do we want to
continue playing the domination game or are we ready to adopt the
role of stewards to the creation we inherited?