Wildlife officials on Monday were investigating a reported wolf attack
on a 16-year-old boy camping last weekend in northern Minnesota.
The attack reportedly occurred early Saturday in a campground along the shore of Lake Winnibigoshish in the Chippewa National Forest.
The teen, who was sleeping at the time, suffered nonlife-threatening cuts to his head and puncture wounds to his face.
If confirmed, it would be the first documented wolf attack of such severity in Minnesota and likely in the continental U.S.
A wolf believed responsible for the attack was trapped overnight Sunday and destroyed Monday morning.
Tom Provost, regional manager for enforcement for the state Department of Natural Resources in Grand Rapids, described the attack as a "freak deal" and "incredibly abnormal behavior."
There are two documented cases of fatal wolf attacks in North America, one in Alaska and the other in Canada, according to the DNR and a review of scientific literature.
"It's the first one that I'm aware of where there was actual physical damage to the victim," Provost said when asked about whether any nonfatal attacks in Minnesota measured up to this one.
Investigators, including University of Minnesota veterinarians, were looking into whether rabies, human habituation or a possibly debilitating jaw condition could explain the attack.
Here's what happened, according to Provost:
On Friday evening, an animal that several campers said was a wolf caused trouble in the West Winnie Campground, which is operated by the U.S. Forest Service. The animal tore through at least two tents, puncturing an air mattress in one.
The 16-year-old victim, who was camping with family and friends, was sleeping alone outside the tents, along the lakeshore. Between 4 and 4:30 a.m. Saturday, a large "dog-like animal" approached the boy from the rear without being detected, Provost said.
"Before he knew it, it had bitten him in the back of the head," Provost said.
The DNR declined to identify the boy but said he lives in northern Minnesota.
The boy freed himself and kicked the animal to force it to retreat, Provost said.
The boy's friends and family gave him first aid. He was taken to the Bemidji hospital, where a 4-inch head wound was treated.
Officials from the Forest Service, DNR and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe tried unsuccessfully to capture a wolf near the scene.
Later, a wolf approached a DNR officer a quarter-mile away. The officer fired at the wolf, but missed, and the wolf ran off.
U.S. Department of Agriculture trappers eventually caught the wolf that was destroyed Monday.
Authorities planned DNA tests in hopes of determining whether the 75-pound male wolf was the animal that attacked the boy.
While the wolf appeared to be of average weight for its size, Provost said an initial examination by a veterinarian revealed a jaw defect that prevented the animal's jaws from aligning properly, as well as a missing tooth.
"It was preliminarily thought that it could have been struggling to feed itself in a normal wolf manner," Provost said.
Perhaps the wolf was unable to take down a deer, and perhaps it knew the campground might be a source of food, Provost said, emphasizing that he was speculating.
Rabies test results on the dead wolf were expected by Wednesday.
Until a few years ago, the number of documented wolf killings of people in the history of North America was zero, according to the most authoritative research on the topic, "A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters in Alaska and Canada," published in 2002 by Mark E. McNay of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
In his examination of 80 instances where wolves showed a lack of fear around people -- and in some cases did attack -- McKay found three cases where wolves appeared to see humans as prey. All involved small children, and two involved wolves that had been habituated to people.
Since his report was published, two adults -- one in Canada and one in Alaska -- have been killed by wolves.
The West Winnie Campground remained closed Monday. Traps were being set for another night to make sure there are no other wolves in the area.
The DNR offers the following tips for an encounter with an aggressive wolf:
In the rare event that you do have an encounter with an aggressive wolf, wildlife officials say:
-- Don't run. Act aggressively, stepping toward the wolf and yelling or clapping your hands if it tries to approach.
-- Do not turn your back toward an aggressive wolf. Continue to stare directly at it. If you are with a companion and more than one wolf is present, place yourselves back to back and slowly move away from the wolves.
-- Retreat slowly while facing the wolf and act aggressively.
-- Stand your ground if a wolf attacks and fight with any means possible (use sticks, rocks, ski poles, fishing rods or whatever you can find).
-- Use air horns or other noisemakers.
-- Use bear spray or firearms if necessary.
-- Climb a tree if necessary; wolves cannot climb trees.
Dave Orrick can be reached at 651-228-5512. Follow him at twitter.com/OutdoorsNow.
(c)2013 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
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