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Wolf Crossings

A Rural Viewpoint On Wolf Reintroduction And Protection

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Updated 10-06




When a wolf strikes, it's no picnic

Holiday weekend ends in chaos as animal attacks families at Northern Ontario beach

Brenda Wright says she and her two children had just eaten their turkey sandwiches and settled onto their beach towels when the horror began.

Her son, Casey, 12, noticed a black, dog-like animal running across the Northern Ontario beach where the family was enjoying the last day of summer vacation.

In a sudden and unrelenting attack, the animal ripped into Casey's buttock, tore his mother's hands and leg, and bloodied his 14-year-old sister's scalp, lunging after the family of six as they fled screaming into Lake Superior.

"I was trying to fight him off and he grabbed my finger. I thought he pulled it off. . . . Honest to God, it looks like hamburger meat," Ms. Wright said yesterday from her mother's home in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

For Jerry and Rachel Talbot, it started at around 4 p.m. The Wawa, Ont., couple, on their way to a wedding in Sudbury with granddaughters Leah, 3, and Madison, 5, pulled off of Highway 17 for a quick swim at a popular day picnic area in Lake Superior Provincial Park.

According to park staff, more than a dozen others were enjoying the end of the Labour Day weekend at Katherine's Cove when the Talbot family wandered onto the beach and began to remove their shoes.

Mr. Talbot noticed a black animal chasing a girl across the sand. Too slow for the girl, the animal veered off and grabbed a slower, smaller target: Leah.

It clamped its jaws around the blond toddler's left upper arm and began dragging her away from her grandmother and sister, said Leah's mother, Josee Morgan, who told the story yesterday from Marathon, Ont. The girl was dragged about six metres before the wolf dropped her on her back, startled by the shrieks of her grandparents and those who had jumped in to help.

"[Leah] started to run, but she was in sand and she was in shock and all that, that she couldn't get her feet going," Ms. Morgan said yesterday.

The wolf grabbed the hood of the little girl's black jacket. This time, Ms. Talbot's advances and screams caused the wolf to drop the girl momentarily and Ms. Talbot lunged forward, scooped up the child and raced to her vehicle. Mr. Talbot and Madison were close behind.

The attack on the Wright family occurred on Bathtub Island, a large rocky area within wading distance of the mainland and about 100 metres south of Katherine's Cove.

Ms. Wright, on a day trip with her sister-in-law, two children and their cousins, aged 10 and 13, said her family was probably attacked first. (Park officials say they aren't sure about the order of the attacks.)

She said the animal nipped the ankle of her 13-year-old nephew, Jake, then clamped down on her son's buttock, carrying him about half a metre before dropping him and lunging at her.

The wolf's teeth tore into her hands and her leg as she fought back and the group raced into the shallow swimming area. Ms. Wright said the wolf followed them, this time going after Emily Wright, 14.

"[Emily] was a real fighter. . . . She got mostly claws in her head and her arm," her mother said.

Alerted by the screams, two strangers raced over and managed to scare off the wolf. As families hid in the trees, the wolf returned minutes later and rifled through their picnic stashes, Ms. Wright said.

Park superintendent Bill Elliott, a 17-year veteran of the park and seasoned hunter, was alerted by two other visitors who rushed over from Bathtub Island.

He said a woman was bitten in a third incident Monday.

At about 6:30 p.m. Monday, Mr. Elliott shot the wolf twice on Highway 17, about a kilometre north of where Leah had been attacked.

The wolf's head has been sent to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Ottawa, where it will be tested for rabies. Mr. Elliott said that the young, full-grown male was limping, possibly from an older injury caused by a vehicle.

Brent Patterson, a scientist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, said that wolves, who generally travel in packs and who prey on moose and beavers in Ontario, rarely attack or even show themselves to humans.

"It is abnormal behaviour for a wolf to be fearless," he said. Wolves who attack people are usually sick or injured, he said.

According to the ministry, there have been few instances in Canada where wolves have bitten people; no one has ever been killed by a wolf attack in North America.

Yesterday, Leah was recovering with her family in Wawa. She belted out You Are My Sunshine in hospital after getting 15 butterfly clips in her arm and told a local reporter: "When I was on the beach going to the water, a wolf bit my arm, and then I cried."

The attack hasn't fazed her, her mother said. "She's smiling. She knows something happened, though, because she'll often say 'I love you, I love you.' "

As for Ms. Wright and her children, who all have stitches and various puncture wounds, the shock has not worn off.

"You continue to see this wolf's face and you relive it. . . . I think it's going to take some time," Ms. Wright said.