A Fish and Game biologist said a trio of gray wolves appear to have killed a dog and then pursued the owner during a hike in the mountains near Anchorage. The episode offers a textbook look at what to do -- and what not to do -- when you are among wolves, he said.
Dave Battle, assistant area biologist in Anchorage, said he could not definitively confirm animals that killed the dogs were wolves, and not coyotes. Based on the descriptions and knowledge of the dog owner who reported the June 3 stalking, it appeared it was very likely a wolf encounter.
That owner, who went back the next day and found the carcass of his Jack Russell terrier, did not want to be interviewed.
Reports of encounters between dogs and wolves are rare in the Anchorage backcountry. The most serious incident in recent memory occurred at Fort Richardson and along Knik Arm nearly seven years ago, when a pack in the winter killed three dogs and injured others in a series of attacks, officials said.
Matt Wedeking, Chugach State Park's chief ranger, said he has no confirmation it was a wolf that attacked the dog. But he believes there are wolves in the park and people should be careful.
"Keep dogs and children within eyesight at all times. Travel in large groups and make lots of noise."
In the recent incident, the hiker had started at Prospect Heights trailhead and was traveling along the ridge before the final ascent toward Wolverine Peak, hiking with the terrier and a heeler mix that were off-leash, when he noticed the terrier had gone missing. He started shouting and looking for the dog.
"He talked to some hikers coming down to see if they had seen her," said notes provided by Battle, who took the report two days after it happened. "They hadn't, but … mentioned they thought they heard something in the valley below, like an 'altercation.'"
The hiker dropped into the valley and saw what he thought was a coyote about 100 yards away. He soon realized it was too large to be a coyote.
"He quickly realized it was a wolf, and then realized there were two more near the first," Battle said in the report. "They saw him and after a minute or so they started approaching and he started retreating back up toward the ridge at a slow walk."
That's when the wolves picked up the pace and started trotting toward him, Battle said. The man jogged away. Two wolves approached together and a third circled toward the hiker.
When the wolves came within 10 yards, the man stopped and turned, waving his arms and shouting. The wolves stood their ground.
"After about 20 seconds he turned and started walking away again, looking over his shoulder," Battle's report said. The two wolves stayed where they were, and the third had disappeared. By the time he reached the ridge, he turned and saw the last wolf leave.
Wedeking said neither the park, nor Fish and Game, had posted warnings of wolves in the area. "If we don't have confirmation we don't usually post anything," he said, referring to park officials.
Reports of wolverines and coyotes are more common in the area – people hear the coyotes yipping across the valley, said Wedeking, who's worked at the park for 11 years. What he hasn't heard about are coyotes killing dogs.
"But people lose dogs a lot," he said. "At least once a month, people post signs of dogs getting lost. But we don't know if they're found."
The owner went back on June 4, a Wednesday, and found the dead terrier in the valley below the ridge, according to Battle's notes. The wolf had apparently grabbed the terrier around its neck and shook hard, penetrating the rib cage and causing significant damage, Battle said.
"It hadn't been fed on, so it was probably protection of a den or territorial," Battle said.
Battle said the dog owner initially did the wrong thing by running from the wolves. But he ultimately did the right thing by standing in place, waving and shouting at the wolves.
You can't get away by running away from a predator like a bear or a wolf, Battle said. All that does is stoke their instinct to chase prey.
"There's no way you'll outrun something with four feet," he said. "There's a point you might have to fight back, but standing your ground initially is always the thing to do."