|A self-portrait on Candice Berner’s blog|
The horrible death last week of Candice Berner, an adventurous special ed teacher spending the year in remote Alaska villages, may be the first confirmed fatal attack by wolves in modern American history. Berner, 32, was attacked and partially eaten by animals March 8. Alaska wildlife officials shot two area wolves March 15 and are figuring out if they are the killers and if they have rabies, a common cause of rare wolf attacks. Hunting advocates are already jumping on the case as proof wolves are dangerous and need to be hunted.
Originally, because wolf attacks are so rare, authorities even wondered if she had died first, then been attacked. A fellow Alaska teacher said on her own blog that she couldn’t believe it.
Initially, I was in shock. Wolves, seriously? My knee-jerk reaction was bullshit. I did some research, and this is only the second time in history a wolf killed a human. A bear would attack a human, not wolves. It seemed too obscure to actually be true. Sometimes, I am angry. There is a part of me that thinks there must be something more to the story, perhaps foul play. Although she was tiny (standing at 4’11 and maybe 100lbs soaking wet), she was also a hunter and a trapper.
But her autopsy points to just to an animal attack. Wolf tracks were at the scene and the other big predator, bears, are still hibernating.
Berner usually ran an impressive six miles. She was an enthusiastic, veteran teacher, with a master’s degree and many years experience in both California and Pennsylvania. Her blog Adventures of an Alaska Bush Teacher shows how excited she was to get the full Alaska experience, seeing the wildlife and learning from everyone she met. She went trapping; caught a fox, hoped to catch a wolf. She admired villagers who survived on what they fished, hunted and gathered. She went with the kids on an impromptu field trip to see a slain moose that would provide meat for the winter.
Only in bush Alaska does a successful morning hunting equal a school wide break. Subsistence hunting and fishing takes priority over many things including spelling tests, because it’s survival.
But she didn’t care for the tourist trophy hunters.
I personally do not like the bears being shot, I think they’re beautiful and amazing animals to watch. Most hunters don’t eat the meat, and only keep the fur…
She mentions carrying bear spray when she getting two roaming village dogs to accompany her to watch out for bear and other animals.
During our run they chase away ravens, magpies and sometimes foxes. They’re great company to have and I feel safer running on the trails. At the end of our run I reward them with another milk bone.
|Berner’s picture of her school’s wolf mascot|
That was in her home base of Perryville; she flew by bush plane to four other remote villages. Just that day she had landed in the 100-person Chignik Lake to teach, then went running after school. Stray dogs in Chignik Lake were known to go missing; residents blamed wolves, local TV reports. It’s too bad some of Berner’s dog friends weren’t with her to protect her–or at least warn her. She had an iPod and may not have heard them coming until they lunged, police told her father. Even having dogs along may not have helped. Wolves are known to attack dogs and the people with them.
Hunters are already jumping on the case as an opportunity. They argue for more hunting by saying we need them to kill dangerous animals. They put themselves in the uncomfortable position of routing for animal attacks. When someone says wolf attacks are rare, Black Bear Blog, responds: “That is an outrageous statement that is simply not true.” Look at all the comments from this Field and Stream report saying wolves have killed hundreds and blaming her for not carrying a gun and jogging, which can trigger prey drive. Readers on fishingbuddy castigate her father for not rushing out to slaughter the wolves with an assault weapon.
According to the International Wolf Center, said a 2005 attack on a geology student in Saskatchewan was the first confirmed wolf attack death. Dr. L. David Mech, founder of the non-profit International Wolf Center and a wolf biologist with the United States Geological Survey said that the 2005 attack was a horrible “but one fatal wolf attack in the recorded history of North America does not warrant widespread alarm.”
Her father Bob Berner, despite his horrible loss, didn’t try to stir up any anti-wolf rage.”They’re just doing what wolves do,” Berner told the Anchorage Daily News. “Their nature happened to kill my daughter, but I don’t have any anger towards wolves.”
Read Berner’s Blog About her Adventures in Alaska