A retired Fairbanks wolf biologist played a key role in confirming what has been declared North America's first documented fatal wolf attack on a human in the wild.
Wildlife biologist Mark McNay, who retired from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks three months ago, testified at a coroner's inquest in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, two weeks ago that he felt certain that wolves killed Kenton Carnegie two years ago.
After sitting through three days of testimony, which included graphic photos and details of how Carnegie was killed and then eaten by a pack of four wolves at a remote mining camp in northern Saskatchewan, a six-person jury agreed with McNay, making it the continent's first documented case of a person being killed by a wild, healthy wolf or wolves. Humans have been killed by rabid and captive wolves in North America before and there have been many documented cases of fatal wolf attacks in India.
Carnegie, a 22-year-old engineering student from Ontario at the time, was found dead on Nov. 8, 2005, at the Points North Landing supply depot in northern Saskatchewan. Co-workers found him mauled to death in the brush only about a half-mile from the camp.
Although no one witnessed the attack, searchers told authorities they heard wolves howling and saw wolf-like eyes glowing in the dark when they went to retrieve the body, which was surrounded by wolf tracks in the snow. Bite marks from wolves were also found on his body, which had been partially eaten when it was found.
In addition, wolves had been spotted feeding in an open garbage dump at the mining camp and had become habituated to humans, based on reports from residents. Four days prior to Carnegie's death, two other men at the camp were approached by what they described as aggressive wolves and had to use sticks to fend the wolves off.
While wolves were initially suspected of killing Carnegie, one of Canada's top wolf and bear biologists, Paul Paquet from the University of Calgary, investigated the killing and said "the preponderance of evidence" indicated a black bear, not wolves, killed Carnegie. Among the evidence cited by Paquet was the pattern of the attack, which parts of Carnegie's body were eaten and the fact his body was dragged approximately 50 feet from the kill site.
"Our primary conclusion was that his death was from a large predator attack and there are only two large predators in the area - black bears and wolves," said Paquet by phone from Calgary. "We couldn't come to a definitive decision but we felt a preponderance of evidence was that it was a black bear."
But Carnegie's family didn't agree with Paquet's assessment and contacted McNay in January, more than a year after their son's death, to review evidence in the case. McNay specialized in studying wolves for about half of his 27 years at the Department of Fish and Game. Based on what McNay told them, the family requested an official coroner's inquest.
"The family felt like there was something wrong," he said. "They were pretty angry."
Carnegie's father, Kim, called the investigation into his son's death and Paquet's theory that a bear killed him "a con job."
"My main focus was to prove my son was killed by wolves and not a bear," said Kim Carnegie, explaining why the family requested an inquest. "I knew it was wolves and everybody up there knew it was wolves."
The Nov. 3 inquest ended two years of debate about whether wolves or a bear killed Carnegie. Despite the jury's decision and the fact that no bears had been seen in the area for a month prior to his death, Paquet still feels a bear killed Carnegie. He didn't put much credence in the jury's finding.
"The jury's decision was a poor one, which I'd put in the same category as 'O.J. Simpson is innocent,'" Paquet told the CanWest News Service following the inquest. "It's all circumstantial evidence."
Paquet said he has been restricted from releasing the report he wrote on the Carnegie killing for legal reasons.
However, McNay said Paquet's theory about a bear killing Carnegie is riddled with holes and contradictions. The tracks that Paquet identified as bear tracks near the body "are obviously not a bear track," he said. The tracks in question are really two overlapping wolf tracks in overflow, McNay said.
While Carnegie's stomach, kidney and intestines had been eaten, his heart, lungs and liver were intact, which Paquet said is another sign that a bear, not wolves, killed him.
"I've never ever seen a wolf kill where those soft organs are still there," said Paquet, who has investigated more than 1,200 wolf kills. "They're always the first thing to go."
The organ preference cited by Paquet is "largely an invention," McNay said, since both wolves and bears will eat all the organs on a prey animal if given a chance. Based on reports from witnesses, the predators were interrupted by the search party and had not finished eating yet, he said. Also, since this was almost surely the first human the predators had ever eaten, it's impossible to assign certain feeding characteristics based on what remained, McNay said.
On top of that, Paquet acknowledges that wolves fed on Carnegie's body because human hair was recovered from the stomachs of two wolves that were shot in the area following his death, yet he continues to argue that the feeding patterns are characteristic of a bear, McNay said.
"He has continued to fabricate senseless explanations throughout his testimony and his report that on close examination are contradictory," McNay said of Paquet.
Paquet dismissed much of the evidence provided in interviews with the local constable and coroner, as well as members of the search party because "eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable," Paquet said.
For McNay, the absence of any bears in the area before and after the killing is the clincher.
"The bottom line," McNay said, "is nobody had seen a bear in a month."
Kim Carnegie described Paquet as a "wolf protectionist" who tried to distort his son's death for his personal gain.
"What I'm hoping comes out of this is that people will understand wolves are very dangerous animals," Carnegie said.
Wolves are protected in Saskatchewan, he said. They can be trapped but not hunted, though they can be shot if they attack a human or livestock. He said he hopes his son's death convinces the provincial government to open a hunting season for wolves in Saskatchewan.
Human vs. wolves
While this was the first reported fatal attack on a human by a wolf, there have been other aggressive attacks by wolves in Alaska and Canada. McNay spent the better part of two years researching wolf attacks in North America and came up with more than a dozen cases in the past 30 years.
Nearly all those attacks involved "habituated" or "food-conditioned" wolves, such as the one who attacked a 6-year-old boy at a remote logging camp in Southeast Alaska in 2000. The boy was playing in the woods when he saw the wolf and attempted to flee but fell as he was running away. The wolf attacked, biting him several times and attempting to drag him away before it was shot.
In the most recent case, an Anchorage woman walking along the Dalton Highway was chased down and bitten twice in the leg by a wolf last summer almost 200 miles north of Fairbanks. She escaped by taking refuge in a roadside outhouse and alerting some nearby campers.
In 2004, not far from where Carnegie was killed, a man was attacked by a single wolf but the man, who stood more than 6 feet and weighed more than 200 pounds, was able to get the wolf in a headlock and co-workers going by on a bus came to his rescue, McNay said.
"We've had a steady increase of aggressive behavior by wolves toward people," he said.
Experts expect more human-wolf encounters in the future, given that wolves re-introduced in Wyoming 10 years ago have flourished and are now spread across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
A habituated, food-conditioned wolf is more dangerous than a wild one, McNay said.
"Once they become habituated to people so they lose their natural fear response, they can even have a predation response," said McNay, who has since moved to Kansas following his retirement. "I think that's what happened in Icy Bay and with (Carnegie). Those things are happening more frequently. It's a sign of the times where we have more people in wild lands interacting with wolves."
Even so, the chances of being attacked by a wolf, especially a wild, unhabituated one, are incredibly slim, McNay said.
"The chances of getting struck by lightning or mauled by a dog are greater," he said.
Experts agree that wildlife agencies like the Alaska Department of Fish and Game need to start educating the public about what to do in the event of wolf encounter.
"What's the appropriate response to a wolf as opposed to a charging grizzly bear, those are the things people have to start thinking about," McNay said. "If wolves start to get (food habituated) you have to act like it was grizzly bear.
"We've been told wolves are not a threat and that we don't have to worry about wolves the way we worry about bears, but that's not true," he said. "The chance of getting attacked by a bear is greater than being attacked by a wolf, but people can't assume wolves are just big dogs."