January 27, 2012 in Idaho, Outdoors

State biologist dreads Hollywood portrayal of wolves

Attacks on humans, implied in movie’s trailers, extremely rare
By The Spokesman-Review
Associated Press photo

From left, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney and Liam Neeson perform in a scene from “The Grey.”
(Full-size photo)


• Reviews of “The Grey” and other weekend releases can be found in in today’s 7 section.

Wolf attacks

Since 1950, wolves are known to have killed nine people in Europe, which is home to 10,000 to 20,000 wolves, and eight people in Russia, which has about 40,000 wolves. Human deaths have also been reported in India, where wild prey is scarce and livestock is heavily guarded. In North America, home to about 60,000 wolves, two human deaths have been attributed to wolves in the past 60 years.

• More information on human-wolf encounters is available in Washington’s Wolf Management and Conservation Plan (Chapter 7) at

http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/ mgmt_plan_process.html

Wolves are coming to the big screen today in “The Grey,” a man-versus-beast thriller starring Liam Neeson.

When their plane crashes in Alaska’s frozen wilderness, a bunch of oil-field roughnecks fight for survival. Not only do the men combat cold and hunger, they’re stalked by a wolf pack.

Film previews feature eerie howls and shots of feral eyes glinting in the darkness. When carnage ensues in this R-rated film, the wolves are usually the winners.

But the movie’s portrayal of wolves as man-eaters dismays Gary Wiles.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh, no!’ ” said Wiles, a wildlife biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It looks totally like a Hollywood-contrived movie: something to strike at people’s basic fears.”

Based on what he’s seen in movie trailers, Wiles describes wolf behavior in the film as “pretty far-fetched.”

Despite the presence of 60,000 wolves in North America, only two human deaths from wolves have been documented in the past 60 years.

One person was killed in Saskatchewan in 2007; the other death occurred in Alaska in 2010. The Saskatchewan death involved wolves that had become habituated to people.

“The facts are so much different than what I suspect is portrayed in the movie,” said Wiles, who helped write Washington’s recently adopted wolf management and conservation plan. “I always say show me the evidence that people are being attacked.”

Washington is home to at least 27 wolves, including three successful breeding pairs. The wolf management plan calls for a minimum of 15 breeding packs throughout the state.

Wiles authored the plan’s chapter titled “Wolf-Human Interactions.” Wolves usually avoid people, he said, noting that no attacks on people have been reported in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming since wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies.

But it’s a different story for domestic dogs. Wiles encourages people hiking with dogs to keep them on a leash and to be especially alert when they’re in the territory of a wolf pack. Wolves have killed at least 144 dogs in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming since 1987. Nearly all of the dogs were running loose when they were attacked.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Joe Carnahan, director of “The Grey,” said he wasn’t trying to demonize wolves or portray them as vicious killers.

“I never intended (the wolves) to be the aggressor; I look at them as defenders,” he said. “I think these guys are in a very territorially sensitive place. (The humans) were trespassing and intruders.”

“The Grey” opens today at Regal NorthTown Mall, according to movie website Fandango. Wiles, who works out of Fish and Wildlife’s Olympia office, doesn’t plan to see the film. As a matter of principle, he boycotts wildlife horror flicks. “Anything that makes wildlife look far worse than they really are, I avoid,” Wiles said.

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