Wolf-Human Incidents in Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada

On September 27th, 1998 in Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada a 19-month old boy was grabbed by a wolf and tossed three feet. Much of the following information was related to me by the park’s Chief Naturalist Dan Strickland and helps put the incident in perspective:

  • A wolf, believed by park staff to be the same wolf, had been observed and photographed by hundreds perhaps thousands of visitors over the summer in and near two of the park’s largest campgrounds. Most reports suggested the wolf was non-threatening towards humans. Park visitors were excited about seeing a wild wolf.
  • In three separate incidents in July, August and September a wolf tangled with and injured dogs in and around the same two campgrounds. In mid September the park issued a notice to dog owners to be aware of the wolf and to keep pets under supervision.
  • On Friday, September 25th, a wolf circled a young girl in one of the campgrounds. Her parents and neighboring campers intervened. They sprayed the wolf three times with pepper spray. The wolf left after the girl was ushered in to a nearby camper. The effectiveness of the pepper spray can not be judged because how well it was applied can not be reconstructed. However, the tenacity of the wolf upset the parents and prompted park officials to take action.
  • After hearing of this incident park officials decided to remove the wolf but they were unable to locate the animal that day (Friday).
  • The next day, Saturday, a wolf tangled with a fourth dog, but again park officials were unable to track down and remove the wolf.
  • At 10 a.m. Sunday, at the Lake of Two Rivers campground, a wolf grabbed 19-month old Daniel Howell around the chest then tossed the infant about three feet. In a local newspaper, the Owen Sound Sun Times, the parents were quoted as stating “It wasn’t hit and run. He hit him [the infant] and then it was wait and see. He [the wolf] circled the picnic table a number of times before he was scared off enough to leave. The child had been playing with a toy truck in the middle of camp with the parents about 20 feet away. The father saw the wolf come out of the brush, but thought it was a dog. The father took his eyes off the animal briefly and seconds later he saw the wolf with his son in its mouth. After the wolf tossed the infant, the mother grabbed her son and older daughter and jumped up on a picnic table. Neighboring campers and the father chased the wolf away.
  • The wolf proceeded west through a nearby camp ground then laid down in a marshy area. Within an hour a park ranger had shot and wounded the wolf. Minutes later another ranger killed the animal. The wolf was a 66 pound male that appeared to be in good condition and looked typical of wild Algonquin wolves. Only grass was found in the wolf’s stomach. The wolf tested negative for rabies.
  • Daniel was driven by park officials 35 kilometers to meet an ambulance which proceeded to a hospital in Huntsville. The infant received puncture wounds to the front and back requiring two stitches and was released that day. Although the wolf tested negative for rabies the infant was given rabies shots as a precautionary measure.

This was the fifth incident in 11 years, involving four different animals, in which fearless, usually non-aggressive, wolves have bitten humans in Algonquin Park. Two of the bites, including this latest, could be considered serious.

  • In 1987 a 16-year old girl was briefly seized on the arm after she shined a flashlight in the eyes of a wolf at close range. The bite was interpreted as a “disciplinary or “annoyance reaction to the light. The wolf was shot the next day and tested negative for rabies. The girl received two slight scratches.
  • In August 1994 a fearless wolf was observed by many campers in the park. It seemed uninterested in food but growled at people in a seemingly aggressive manner, tore up camping gear, and bit two people. On August 3rd, a nine-year old boy suffered a single tooth puncture wound and a skin tear on his side, on September 1st a woman suffered a similar wound on the back of her leg. The wolf was shot eight days later and it seemed normal and tested negative for rabies.
  • On August 18th, 1996 a wolf seized the head of a 12-year old boy who was sleeping without a tent. The boy was dragged an estimated seven feet before the wolf was driven off by his father. The boy suffered a broken nose and six lacerations to the lower face that resulted in 80 stitches. The injuries were not life threatening but severe enough to warrant plastic surgery. It has been hypothesized that the wolf was trying to get the sleeping bag and not the boy. There was another tear along the side of the sleeping bag that was consistent with the wolf’s trying to tug at the bag. Possibly, the wolf grabbed the boy’s head when it tried to get another purchase on the bag. This wolf had been observed many times by visitors over the preceding 12 days. The wolf had shown an interest in loose articles of clothing and camping gear but did not seem aggressive towards humans. In fact it had pulled a pack out from under the head of another sleeping camper on August 11th. Again, the ca mper was not in a tent. The wolf was not interested in food left out at the site but made repeated darting movements for the pack even after the camper attempted to scare it off. Apparently this behavior is not unprecedented. In Tales of the Wolf by D. Casey and T.W. Clark, the authors made three reference to objects being taken from under the heads of sleeping humans.

Why has Algonquin had so many incidents involving bold, fearless wolves? Below are three possible explanations:

  1. Captive released wolves or wolf/dog hybrids – It is possible that one to several captive wolves or high proportion wolf/dog hybrids have been released around the Algonquin Park area. The International Wolf Center, for example, gets around a hundred calls each year from well-intentioned pet owners wanting homes for wolves or wolf/dog hybrids they can no longer care for. Captive facilities are often full so many of these animals are euthanized, a few are naively released in to the wild. Algonquin is surrounded by densely populated areas including the cities of Ottawa and Toronto so the potential for the illegal release of once captive animals is high. This would explain the tame nature of some of the animals.
  2. Wild “wolves with latent dog genetics – Using the argument above, it is possible that one or more high-proportion wolf/dog hybrids have been released in the Algonquin area in the past and that some, even just one, has bred with wild wolves. Depending on the hybrid mixture and which genes are expressed in the offspring, one might expect that some of these offspring would be more tolerant and less timid than pure wolves. These dog genes could exist in the population for years. Algonquin first started recording fearless wolves in 1963 when a wolf ripped in to a tent containing a nine month-old child. The wolf, which was later killed, ate some hot dogs and left the child alone. In the 1970s a now famous wolf named “Rosie fed from a bird feeder and allowed close approaches by some humans. Fearless wolves continued to be observed in the 1980s and 1990s.
  3. Bold wild wolves – Wolves are intelligent and highly adaptable animals. Wolves in Algonquin may be getting rewarded (fed) occasionally during their exploits at camp sites and rarely suffer any negative experiences (they are protected in the park) until killed by park officials. Thus some individuals may begin learning they can scavenge in and around camp sites. Some could begin considering humans, especially small children, as potential prey. This scenario has been hypothesized for the recent events in India. Algonquin officials have visitor reports that many of the wolves received food during their visits to camp sites. Some wild wolves, especially when wild prey is scarce, will tolerate humans when food is present.

Conclusions
Captive wolves and wolf/dog hybrids should never be released in to the wild. The potential for injury to humans, the likely need to eventually kill the animal, and the high potential for wild wolves to get blamed and suffer the consequences, is too great. Similarly, feeding large predators is rarely a good idea.