|Wayne T. Allison|
From a Q&A I did with the Wall Street Journal a few years back, celebrating the release of a crappy movie called The Grey.
About this new Liam Neeson movie: Do wolves really hunt you down with Terminator-like resolve if you invade their territory?
Not so much.
When do they attack people?
In rural areas of Europe and Asia, they sometimes eat the guy left behind to tend the sheep. Also, when a lot of people are lying around dead or helpless, from war or plague, wolves clean the place up. If a wolf gets rabies, it will attack everything in its path. One rabid wolf killed fifteen people and bit dozens of others in a single rampage.
Do they ever make a habit of eating people?
Yes. In central France in the 1760s, something called The Beast of Gevaudan killed at least five dozen people, mostly farm workers and travelers. The case was so famous (and so preposterously exaggerated) that it drew the attention of King Louis XV. “No one dared go out any more after nightfall,” wrote Guy de Maupassant in his thinly fictionalized account. “The darkness seemed haunted by the image of the beast.” Similar cases have happened in India.
Why don’t they usually eat people in North America?
Because here, people can afford guns. Wolves are smart; they figure out that we’ll hurt them and they teach their cubs to fear us.
But attacks do happen here?
Yes, usually when the wolves get habituated to people. If they eat garbage or pets and find out there’s no penalty, we’re in trouble. That’s apparently what happened in 2010 near Chignik Lake, Alaska. A very athletic young school teacher who had trained in kickboxing was out for a jog when she was killed by wolves. Authorities said they found “signs of predation.” Another schoolteacher was killed by wolves in Saskatchewan in 2005.
What’s the most gruesome attack you’ve heard of?
In Belarus in the mid-1990s, a teacher kept a nine-year-old girl after school. She had to walk home in the dark. When she didn’t show up at home, her father went looking. He found her severed head surrounded by wolf tracks on a bloody patch of snow. Later, he killed the teacher. (That makes three dead teachers in one article, in case anybody’s counting.)
Have you ever had an encounter with a wolf?
Several, none tragic. I once went to talk with a guy who owned wolves. His prize pet, a 75-pound pure white male, rushed up to me and took my hand in its mouth. I felt my wedding band clink against its teeth. “He won’t hurt you,” the guy said. “He’s just being friendly.” So I stood there until the wolf got done holding my hand.