On Thursday 18. April 1996 Ms. Patricia Wyman, 24 years old, was attacked and killed by five adult North American grey wolves (Canis lupus ssp.) at the HALIBURTON FOREST and WILDLIFE RESERVE, Ltd. near Haliburton, Ontario. These wolves had lived in captivity all their lives, and were not socialized to humans. Prior to the attack the wolves had always kept their distance when caretakers and others entered the wooded 15-acre enclosure. The wolves were part of a new WOLF CENTER exhibit that was established as an educational facility to foster a better appreciation of the role of wolves in the wild.
Ms. Wyman had been hired as a new caretaker of the wolves, and to run the education program. A wolf lover, she had participated in education programs at the reserve during the previous year and visited several times before being hired. She had a degree in wildlife biology from the University of Guelph, Ontario, and had assumed her new position on Monday, four days prior to April 18th. She had been in the wolf enclosure twice before, the first time with her supervisor, and once the day before when she had fed the wolves. Since these wolves had always kept their distance from people, no one expected any problems. On Wednesday Tricia told her fiancee that she felt somewhat apprehensive about the alpha male, but she did not share this concern with her supervisor or any other staff member. No one knows why she entered the enclosure by herself on Thursday.
Tricia's body was found in the late afternoon by two employees who immediately called the Ontario Provincial Police. Three officers responded to the call, and two entered the enclosure. As they approached Tricia's body, one of the wolves growled at them . This behavior is consistent with food defense. The wolves, curious, approached and circled the officers, who fired some shots in their direction. This is understandable since these men had no prior experience with wolves, and knew that these wolves had just killed a woman. Eventually six officers entered the enclosure to remove the body. The wolves had torn off all her clothing, she had multiple bite wounds, and some flesh had been torn from her extremities, although on the whole her body was intact. The coroner ordered that the wolves be killed the next day, and tests for rabies were to be made. (I expect the results to be negative.)
Upon hearing about this attack from a Canadian Wolf Park member via a faxed newspaper account, I called Dr. Peter Schleifenbaum, the director of the reserve, and offered my help with the investigation and analysis. My assistant, N. Osypka, and I drove to Haliburton and met with the director, other staff members, and some officials, including the detective who with his two colleagues had been the first on the scene of the attack. Based on the information we obtained, and a visit to the wolf enclosure, I came to the following conclusions as to what might have precipitated the attack:
Being new to the wolves, Ms. Wyman probably entered the enclosure to familiarize herself further with her new charges. Convinced that the wolves would keep their distance, as had been the experience of handlers since the wolves had been there, she apparently overcame her concern about the alpha wolf from the day before. The ground in the enclosure is covered with fallen trees and broken branches. I think that as the curious wolves approached, and most likely circled her, she probably tripped and fell. That is all the opportunity wolves need to attack, which they did. That she was attacked by several , and perhaps all the wolves, is attested by the fact that her clothing was strewn all over, and that she had multiple bite wounds all over her body and extremities. Tasting flesh probably triggered some feeding behavior, although generally speaking wolves avoid unfamiliar food. The scenario is based on my twenty-four year experience with captive wolves at WOLF PARK; the analysis of several other attacks, including kills of humans by captive wolves, wolf-dog hybrids, dogs; and on a review of the literature of a few, rare attacks on humans by wolves in the wild.
Tricia Wyman was an enthusiastic, young woman who considered this the ideal job she had always wanted. Her love of wolves perhaps made her a little more bold than she should have been, but she was very brave indeed. It is my hope that WOLF CENTRE will be permitted to remain open. In spite of this tragedy, wolf education in North America must go on.
I want to express my deepest sympathy to the Tricia's family, and her colleagues at the HALIBURTON FOREST AND WILDLIFE RESERVE on behalf of myself and all of us at WOLF PARK.
Acknowledgment: I wish to thank Dr. Peter Schleifenbaum, his staff and Detective Constable D.W.Smith of the OPP, and Ms. N. Osypka for their assistance in this investigation.. A more extensive report will eventually become available.