State wildlife biologists have killed 12 wolves outside an Alaska village where pets were snatched and people were worried about the safety of residents.
A spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the dozen wolves were killed Thursday within six miles of Port Heiden, a community of more than 100 on the Alaska Peninsula about 484 miles southwest of Anchorage.
"Our efforts so far should substantially reduce the number of wolves in the area and the frequency that they come into town," said Bruce Dale, the regional wildlife supervisor.
Attacks on people are rare, and fatalities were unheard of in Alaska until this year. A teacher jogging along a rural road in a nearby village, Chignik Bay, was mauled and killed in March.
The 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 seven months earlier. Her body was found off a road a mile outside the village.
Residents of Port Heiden have been seeing wolves near the village since summer. Wolves were blamed for killing five dogs and two cats this year, including two dogs in the last few days. Most of the pet-snatching took place at night, but residents also spotted wolves during the day, and many people started carrying guns.
Villagers had killed seven wolves in the area since August.
Airplanes were used to track the wolves, and a gunner in a helicopter used a shotgun to shoot them, Dale said. Three young wolves were killed close to the village, and nine more were killed five miles to the north. Biologists said the wolves likely belonged to separate packs.
After killing the wolves, the helicopter landed and recovered the carcasses. Necropsies will be performed to review basic body condition, stomach contents, fat reserves, indications of disease, such as rabies, and reproductive health. They're "the usual biological parameters that we collect from every animal we collect," Dale said.
Genetic samples should indicate whether the wolves started as one big group and splintered or were in distinct packs.
Most adult male wolves in Alaska weigh 85 to 115 pounds, but they occasionally reach 145 pounds, according to the Department of Fish and Game. Females average 5 to 10 pounds lighter than males and rarely weigh more than 110 pounds. Wolves reach adult size by about 1 year of age, and the largest wolves occur where prey is abundant year round.
Wolves pose a threat when they become habituated to people and lose fear of them, Dale said.
"The wolves near Port Heiden had become a threat," Dale said. "Hopefully, wolves that move into the area will keep their distance, but people need to be careful near wild animals."