PREDATORS -- A 16-year-old boy fought off a canine believed to be a wolf during an attack in northern Minnesota Saturday. If confirmed as a wolf, it could be the first reported physical attack by a wolf on a human in the lower 48 states.
Noah Graham of Solway was camping on Lake Winnibigoshish with friends last weekend, and was talking with his girlfriend just before the animal came out of nowhere and chomped the back of his head, according to the Associated Press.
Federal trappers on Monday trapped and killed a wolf they say could be the canine involved in the attack. That wolf had a jaw deformity that could have prompted rare bold behavior around humans, officials said.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials say it could be the first documented serious-injury wolf attack on a human in Minnesota.
The youth’s shirt (a potential source of wolf saliva DNA) and wolf muscle tissue have been sent to a laboratory at the University of California – Davis for forensic analysis. The analysis expected to take several weeks. The DNR will release the results when they are available.
Despite a 4-inch gash on his scalp, 17 staples to close the wound and "the worst pain of his life," Graham didn't seem fazed Monday by his encounter, nor the needle that delivered a rabies shot following the attack.
"I had to reach behind me and jerk my head out of its mouth," Graham recalled. "After I got up, I was kicking at it and screaming at it and it wouldn't leave. But then after a while I got it to run away."
The 75-pound male wolf killed Monday had a jaw deformity that prevented its upper and lower teeth from lining up and likely had to scavenge because it wouldn't have been able to kill large prey, said Tom Provost, regional manager for the DNR's enforcement division in Grand Rapids.
Graham said the attack came without warning.
"There was no sound at all. Didn't hear it. It was just all of a sudden there," he said.
Graham's girlfriend fled to her Jeep, while two other members of the camping party slept through all the screaming, kicking and fighting, he said.
Earlier Friday evening, an animal that several campers said was a wolf caused trouble in the West Winnie Campground, which is operated by the U.S. Forest Service.
The animal tore through at least two tents, puncturing an air mattress in one.
After Graham was attacked, officials from the Forest Service, DNR and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe tried unsuccessfully to capture a wolf near the scene.
Later, a wolf approached a DNR officer a quarter-mile away. The officer fired at the wolf, but missed, and the wolf ran off.
U.S. Department of Agriculture trappers eventually caught the wolf that was destroyed Monday.
Until a few years ago, the number of documented wolf killings of people in the history of North America was zero, according to the most authoritative research on the topic, "A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters in Alaska and Canada," published in 2002 by Mark E. McNay of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
In his examination of 80 instances where wolves showed a lack of fear around people -- and in some cases did attack -- McKay found three cases where wolves appeared to see humans as prey. All involved small children, and two involved wolves that had been habituated to people.
Since his report was published, two adults -- one in Canada and one in Alaska -- have been killed by wolves.