May 27, 2019

Wolves in Maine in the 1800s – Part III (First Recorded Attacks on Humans)

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

The book, Early Maine Wildlife – Historical Accounts of Canada lynx, Moose, Mountain Lion, White-Tailed Deer, Wolverine, Wolves, and Woodland Caribou, 1603 – 1930 – by William B. Krohn and Christopher L. Hoving, is proving to be an interesting addition to my library. I think the authors did a decent job of putting this information together; one, to make it readable, and, two, to give a reader a sense of the changes taking place across the lands over extended periods of time. I am glad they chose to list the entries in chronological order. Of course these changes come with no real explanations from the observers, often just recalling what it used to be like.

In 1860, J.G. Rich writes in the Bethel Courier about his hunts for caribou. He also explains that he has shot and killed two caribou in the previous 6 years and then states, “many hunters from different parts of the State have told me that the species [caribou] are almost extinct in Maine”. Obviously Rich wasn’t into conservation of wildlife, which most of us know came a bit later on after it was decided something needed to be done.

Henry David Thoreau relates the reports he got from lumbermen and hunters in the mid-1800s through the late-1800s. In 1858 he writes, “The lumberers told me that there were many moose thereabouts, but no caribou or deer.”

It was in 1860 when M.R. Keep told the tale of when the French first settled in the Madawaska area in Northern Maine, along the St. John River, the Indians got angry because the French were killing their moose and caribou. The story goes that the Indians, out of spite, slaughtered all the moose, and, “For twenty years or more, not a moose was seen or heard from in all Northern Maine or the adjoining borders of New Brunswick[.]”

However, wolves were still an often talked about species. Thoreau often spent time “listening” throughout his travels in Maine to hear the wolves howl. While people howled about the threats and utter destruction the animal caused.

It was in 1855 that C. Hardy wrote about what he knew of the grey wolf.

“The gray wolf (Canis lupus) has but lately made its appearance in Nova Scotia, not as in other provinces, however, in company with his prey, the Canadian deer (Cervus virginianus). The gray wolf is a large, fierce, and powerful animal. In Maine and New Brunswick, several instances have been known of his attacking singly and destroying a human being. This animal sometimes grows to the length of six feet. The hair is long, fine, and of a silver grey. A broad band of black, here and there, showing shiny silvery hairs, extend from the head down the back. The tail is long and bushy, as the brush of a fox. A wolf skin forms a frequent decoration for the back of a sleigh.”

This is the first I have read in this book (although I am barely past page 100 of 500) of reports of wolves attacking and killing people. I should point out that in reading accounts of wolves beginning in the very early 1600s, most descriptions of wolves up to this point related that they were wary of humans and for the most part steered clear. While there were also reports of some savagery of wolves on livestock, the number of those reports paled in comparison to the accounts of how the wolves feed on available wild prey, such as deer, moose, rodents, etc.

At this juncture, it appears that we may be actually seeing a pattern take place. As the reports from observers seem to be passing on the reduction of game animals and in some cases the lack thereof, i.e. the extinction of the caribou, incidents of livestock kill and now reports of attacks on humans are on the increase.

In 1842, Z. Thompson, in his “History of Vermont”, writes about “The Common Wolf”.

“For some years after the settlement of this state was commenced, wolves were so numerous and made such havoc of the flocks of the sheep, that the keeping of sheep was a very precarious business. At some seasons particularly in the winter they would prowl through the settlements at night and large companies, destroying whole flocks in their way, and, after drinking their blood and perhaps eating a small portion of the choicest and tenderest parts, would leave the carcasses scattered about the enclosure and go in quest of new victims. Slaughter and instruction seemed their chief delight; and while marauding the country they kept up such horrid and prolonged howlings as were calculated, not only to thrill terror through their timorous victims, but to appall the hearts of the inhabitants of the neighborhood. Though sheep seems to be their favorite victim, wolves sometimes destroyed calves, dogs, and other domestic animals; and in the forest they prey upon deer, foxes, hares and other such animals as they can take. Impelled by hunger they have been known in this state to attack persons.”

Here is another account of attacks on people. And also notice that the indicator in the statement about attacks on people is, “Impelled by hunger”. If the accounts being recorded have much accuracy at all, we see that for what may be multiple reasons, the prey base for wolves is diminishing. This increases the incidents of livestock depredation and attacks on humans. I believe it only correct to make that assumption, knowing what we do about wolf behavior.

In addition, this account of Thompson’s, gives us our first glimpse into surplus killing or sport killing that protectors of predators such as the wolf and coyote so readily deny. Thompson describes the wolves’ actions as being anything but savage and pointless. Why has it been 150 years before these kinds of reports are showing up?

I am curious as to whether readers are surprised to learn of these incidences by wolves in Maine – their savagery of livestock and attacks on humans? I would guess they are, as they have been indoctrinated to believe that there has never been an attack on a human by wolves in the lower 48 states. These early observers and recorders of wildlife from the early 1600s, seem to have a differing set of facts.

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Dr. Valerius Geist: “…….Because the Coyote is Coming”

American Hunter magazine has an article they published back in November of 2010 called, “How Coyotes Affect Deer Herds”. The article tells that 16 years ago, in 1994, Dr. Valerius Geist, while attending the annual Southeast Deer Study Group meeting in Charlottesville, Virginia, said the following as it pertained to a perceived “problem” among wildlife managers in dealing with too large populations of whitetail deer.

“Enjoy your problem while it lasts, because the coyote is coming. Once he’s here, you’ll miss your deer problems.”

Dr. Geist’s crystal ball was pretty clear back then, as today many of these same wildlife managers now have coyote problems.

Today, there are new studies ongoing and some of the preliminary data is not only impressive but revealing things about the coyote that confirms what some biologists have suspected for a long time and that seasoned outdoor sportsmen have been seeing for a long time – coyotes are having a much bigger affect on whitetail deer herds than imagined.

One area of study is pointing researchers to conclude that coyotes don’t just randomly take out a deer fawn when the opportunity might present itself. As a matter of fact, data suggest the coyote is studying and learning the habits of the deer and are specifically targeting them for lunch and dinner.

This can further be supported by the research that shows that in one area where coyotes and deer intermingle, 75% of the deer fawns died before they reached the age of six months. Of those 75%, 85% were killed by coyotes.

Despite the new research information, skeptics continue to cry for more time and more studies to support this. Who can blame them? They’ve had so much bad information drilled into their heads for so long, I guess it’s going to take a long time, perhaps even a miracle to get them to change their way of thinking.

So, is this new study suggesting that where there are coyotes all the deer will eventually vanish? I don’t think so but it does now present another management issue of predator control. Not in all regions but in those where there is a problem, again facing a seemingly insurmountable task of convincing wildlife managers a shortage of deer might be the result of too many predators.

What will it take to reach that point? Perhaps first, we need to work on educating people that over-protection of a predator such as a wolf or a coyote is not a good thing. It was in Hank Fischer’s book, “Wolf Wars“, where he quoted Dr. L. David Mech. Mech is a Senior Scientist with the Biological Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, and Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota, and considered by many to be the foremost authority of wolf behavior.

“The wolf’s repopulation of the northern parts of the lower forty-eight states . . . will stand as one of the primary conservation achievements of the twentieth century. Society will have come full circle and corrected its grave overreaction to its main mammalian competitor. Maybe not quite full circle. If we have learned anything from this ordeal, it is that the best way to ensure continued wolf survival is, ironically enough, not to protect wolves completely. If we carefully regulate wolf populations instead of overprotecting them, we can prevent a second wave of wolf hysteria, a backlash that could lead once again to persecution.”

Even Dr. Mech understood the many facets of the over-protection of wolves, including the one that much of the Northern Rockies is experiencing of a backlash of citizens wanting the wolf killed off. This, of course, the consequence of over-protection.

It would seem to make sense that where over-protection of one species, such as the wolf or coyote, is bad, so it goes with all predators and species. For Mech to suggest that over-protection of predators will ultimately harm the species, it would seem he would then have to disagree with the notion that wildlife is self regulating.

There’s a huge divide here that needs to be crossed. We need predator control and to accomplish that, it seems one object in the way is protection of species beyond what is good socially and scientifically. None of this consequently matters if we cannot successfully dispel the myth that nature will balance itself out.

Nothing short of a miracle is needed here.

Tom Remington

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