Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

Few animals arouse as much passion, both for and against, as the wolf. Spend some time in ranching country and you’ll quickly find that many consider the animal not only economically costly but downright evil. Conservationists, on the other hand, marvel at the complex social lives and admirable adaptability of a creature closely related to our beloved pet dogs. One thing both sides agreed on was that wolves posed no real threat to human beings, at least in North America. Since the earliest days of European colonization, there have been no recorded killings of people by wild wolves on the continent. (Domesticated wolves are another matter.) Until now. According to a report in the Huffington Post, wolves in southern Alaska appear to have ended their streak of good behavior towards us humans:

Wolves likely killed a teacher jogging alone along a rural Alaska village road, public safety officials said Thursday. The Alaska State Medical Examiner listed “multiple injuries due to animal mauling” as the cause of death for Candice Berner, 32, a special education teacher from Pennsylvania who began working in Alaska in August. Her body was found off the road a mile outside the village of Chignik Lake on the Alaska Peninsula, which is about 474 miles southwest of Anchorage.

I suspect that how you take this news will depend entirely on how you viewed wolves beforehand. For wolf-haters, it’s yet more evidence of their nastiness. For wolf-lovers, a lone data point that by itself does little to change our overall perspective on wolves and their behavior. For everyone, though, a reminder that nature must be treated with respect, and that wild animals have a knack for upsetting our received notions of how they should act.