July 5, 2007
Kayaker attacked by wolf in Anderson Islands

A kayaker's life-and-death struggle with a hungry wolf on B.C.'s remote north coast -- the second wolf attack in the province in seven years, and the first thought to involve predatory intent -- has prompted a conservation officer to warn against taking wolf encounters too lightly.

"This was a predatory wolf attack," conservation officer James Zucchelli confirmed in an interview from his Bella Coola Valley office. "That fellow was perceived as a prey source. He was attacked with intent to eat. The wolf saw him and took off running at him."

Zucchelli cautioned against public alarm since such incidents are extremely rare, adding he's not heard of another predatory attack during his eight years as a conservation officer.

But he said the attack reinforces the fact that wolves are predators and capable of attacking humans under certain circumstances, including when they are desperate for food.

The fit, 31-year-old Port Moody kayaker was setting up his tent on a beach at 4 p.m. in the Anderson Islands off northwest Aristazabal Island, a straight-line distance of about 125 km north of Bella Bella, when an old female wolf emerged from the bushes and attacked, Zucchelli said.

The kayaker fought with the wolf for a few long minutes, suffering bites to his leg and hands as he attempted to pry its jaws apart and put it in a headlock.

He eventually dragged himself and the wolf several metres down the beach to his kayak, removed a 10-cm knife from his life jacket, and repeatedly stabbed the animal.

"He proceeds to start filling this thing with holes in the neck and chest area," Zucchelli said. "The wolf gives up, gurgling and bleeding, and wanders off into the trees."

Unable to paddle due to his hand injuries, the kayaker called for help on his marine radio.

Employees from the floating King Salmon Resort at Borrowman Bay, about seven km to the southeast, arrived to remove him and his gear from the island and locate the dying wolf in the nearby bushes, killing it with a shotgun blast to the head.

The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Tanu took the kayaker to hospital in Bella Bella, where he was treated and released. Zucchelli returned to the island and spotted a lone wolf on the shoreline that circled the area of the attack and then disappeared into the bush.

Subsequent tests on the dead wolf showed it did not have rabies, but was emaciated at just 25 kg. A healthy female wolf should weigh closer to 40 kg. The stomach contents included the jaw of a river otter, a feather, and bones from a rat fish scavenged from the beach.

"There was nothing good in [the wolf's] stomach -- shrapnel off the beach," Zucchelli said.

A man was severely bitten by a wolf in 2000 while sleeping outdoors in his sleeping bag at Vargas Island in Clayoquot Sound. He received more than 50 stitches to his scalp. Two young wolves who had a history of being fed by humans were killed.

That doesn't appear to be the case in this latest incident, which occurred July 5 but is only now coming to light. "There was no indication of any feeding or garbage, that anything had been placed on a regular basis on that little patch of beach to suggest a wolf attractant," Zucchelli said.

"This wasn't a beach used on a regular basis. There was no fire pit. There is no evidence these wolves had been fed by humans, period. There was nothing."

Zucchelli still plans to conduct follow-up talks with north coast fishing lodges to reinforce the importance of not feeding wild animals.

The kayaker, who was on a four-week solo trip from southeast Alaska to northern Vancouver Island, asked not to be identified or interviewed, saying he doesn't need the publicity and is concerned that news of the rare incident will only give wolves a bad image.

The Ministry of Environment estimates there is a stable or growing population of 8,000 wolves in the province.

A 2002 study by Mark McNay of the Alaska department of fish and game documented 80 cases in which wolves showed little fear of humans in Alaska and Canada over the past century.

His study documented 39 cases of aggression from healthy wolves (six involving humans with dogs), 12 of known or suspected rabies, and 29 cases of fearless but non-aggressive behaviour. Aggressive non-rabid wolves bit people in 16 cases, six of them severe. He could find no evidence of wolves having killed people.

McNay's report estimates there are 52,000 to 60,000 wolves in Canada and 7,000 to 10,000 in Alaska.