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Dogs in Wolves’ Clothing?

In response to:

Raised by Wolves from the April 5, 2018 issue

To the Editors:

Raymond Pierotti and Brandy R. Fogg’s claim in The First Domestication: How Wolves and Humans Coevolved that wild-living wolves in North America have never killed humans, which I mentioned in my “Raised by Wolves” [NYR, April 5], has been queried by several readers. Clark Heindel wrote of an alleged nineteenth-century attack in Pennsylvania and cited a newspaper report that a “mother from inside the house witnessed a large pack of wolves surround, attack, kill, and eat her husband and son.” Such historical instances are, of course, difficult to investigate, let alone verify, and must be regarded as alleged rather than proven.

Carol Lambert wrote of Candice Berner, a special-education teacher who was allegedly killed by wolves in 2010 near the village of Chignik Lake, Alaska. The Alaska State Medical Examiner found that her death was due to “animal mauling.” I wrote to Pierotti to ask about this and other alleged cases, and he replied that “this one troubles me, because ‘wolf tracks’ were found near the scene, but there are also numerous free-ranging large dogs in this village. I have never been able to ascertain how people distinguished wolf tracks from tracks of large dogs, especially sled dogs.”

Don Lock wrote that one “need go no further than Wikipedia to find dozens of documented instances” of wolf attacks on humans. Certainly Wikipedia lists many alleged instances, but as Pierotti reminds us, this is a politically fraught area, and finding proof of alleged attacks is not easy. Summarizing his feelings on the matter, Pierotti told me, “I do not think that wolves are friendly dogs, but I do not think they regularly attack people.”

Tim Flannery
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute
Melbourne University
Melbourne, Australia