coming back alive
Surviving a Wolf Attack!

Jan. 5, 2005 - Saskatchewan

A wolf size bite!

That’s what Fred Desjarlais, 55, saw close up, when he went out for an evening jog. For a while it was a fight for survival, and the wolf was winning, repeatedly lunging at Fred’s head and sinking its teeth into his leg.

“I don’t know what came over me or how I did it,” said a weary Fred, from his home in Saskatoon, where he was recovering from his ordeal in the northern woods.

“All I know is I had his head and I wasn't’t letting go until someone came to help me.” 

The whole experience came as a tremendous shock to Fred, who wasn’t at all prepared for what happened to him when he went for a short run along a wilderness road. 

Fred Desjarlais works for Cameco Corp., which has a uranium-milling facility in Key Lake, some 600 kms north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

When he finished his shift at 7pm on New Year’s Eve he decided to jog the three miles back to camp instead of taking the shuttle bus. That’s when the wolf attacked.

Fred was already into his run when he heard something behind him. That’s when he saw the wolf creeping out of the ditch and lope towards him.

“He was taunting me, walking in a circle around me. I looked around real quick and thought, ‘I hope he’s alone.’” 

Fred yelled at the animal to try to scare it away. It was no use.

They were suddenly face-to-face. The wolf lunged for Fred’s face, its jaws wide open.

“He had a big mouth and a big head,” said Fred. It reared up on its hind legs and looked down at him.

The first time Fred dodged the attack by leaping to the side. But the wolf came back, and lunged again.

“That’s when I knew he meant business,” said Fred. He dodged a second time but the wolf spun around and sank its teeth into his shoulder.

“It was a bad attack – it bit him twice really badly – but Fred’s a remarkable man and very heroic,” said Kimm Barker, the safety officer at Cameco’s Key Lake facility. “It wasn’t a very smart wolf, because of all the people it could have picked, it chose one of the strongest.”

Luckily Fred was wearing several layers of clothing, so the bite didn’t penetrate to the skin. But it left severe bruising.

Then wolf then sank its teeth into Fred’s pelvis – twice.

The two fell down grappling with each other in the snow.

In desperation Fred managed to climb on the wolf’s back and hold him in a headlock.

“I pulled him down the way you would take down cattle for roping and I dropped onto his head, pinning him there,” said Fred. He’d been doing this for almost a minute when fellow workers on a passing bus saw him and jumped out to help. The wolf ran away.

They took Fred to a medical facility where he was stitched up. Then he was taken by air ambulance to a hospital in Saskatoon for treatment.

The wolf was tracked the next day and shot. It will undergo testing for rabies.

But it’s not over for Fred who says he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress. He can’t sleep from recurring nightmares so he’s planning to see a specialist for help. He hopes to return to work in a week if he can.

One can only wonder... How would this have turned out if the attack had happened in summer when Fred would only have been in a T-shirt and shorts?

Or what if a smaller man, or a woman, or child, had happened along, instead of Fred?

The Wolf
Description: Fur is generally gray, but can also be black or white. A male can measure over 2m in length and can stand 1m high at the shoulders.

Weight: Can vary between 26kg and 80 kg.

Diet: Wolves tend to prey on large mammals, such as moose, elk, caribou, goat and sheep. Rarely will they prey on livestock.

Habitat: Northern U.S. and Alaska, as well as lightly settled areas from Labrador to B.C. and throughout the Northwest and Yukon territories.

Coyotes And You

The coyote has adapted very well to life in urban areas. They are able to live in close proximity with their human neighbours even though we are known to be their only natural predator.

Coyotes are not known to cause problems to urban residents and they are very necessary for the control of small rodents. However, to live in harmony with these animals we must learn to understand and respect them.

Some Safety Concerns: 

What about my dog?

The dog has always been considered a natural enemy by the coyote. However, the coyote is a highly adaptable and opportunistic animal. Therefore, it would not be out of the question for an urbanized coyote to attack a dog.

An attack could be caused if a dog is put into a vulnerable situation by an owner. For example, left outdoors unattended, kept outdoors tied or penned, allowed to run at large, walked off leash, etc.

What about my family?

Coyotes have adjusted well to living in close proximity to humans. They are generally shy animals and would prefer to avoid confrontations with people.

Common sense and the law dictates you never leave children unattended and it is important to teach children about animal safety. By following the steps for prevention and coexistence we can learn to live with wildlife and avoid any negative conflicts.

Getting Bolder

A brazen coyote that bit a girl on the buttocks in Vancouver's Vanier Park was gunned down by a conservation officer.

Provincial wildlife-control officer Dennis Pemble said that the bite signed the animal's death sentence."The girl was rolling around on the grass and the coyote ran up and bit her on the backside," he said.

The bite didn't break the skin, but the 12-year-old girl was terrified by the attack. Pemble said the same coyote had chased a woman, who was clutching her dog to her bosom, right into the Maritime Museum.

"We're getting calls from people in the area who are saying they are afraid to go outside to walk their dogs," Pemble said.

There have been an unusually high number of complaints about coyotes recently, indicating an explosion in the urban coyote population.

Pemble said there was no point in trying to trap the coyote because the cagey canines won't go anywhere near a live trap.

Hitting them with a dart from a tranquilizer gun is virtually impossible. And if hit, the dart would most likely kill the animals anyway.

"We really don't have much of a choice," said Pemble, who blamed people feeding the animal for its antics. Pemble said the Easter weekend attack was only the second he remembers in recent years.

A couple of children were bitten by a coyote in Burnaby park three years ago. That animal was also shot and people had been feeding it.

Kristine Lampa of the Stanley Park Ecology Society said we are going to have to learn to live with coyotes, as attempts to eliminate them in other urban areas, such as Los Angeles, have failed.

She's advising people not to feed coyotes, to yell at them when they get too brazen and to call animal control if the coyote is threatening people or pets.

"Remember, a fed coyote is a dead coyote, because sooner or later it will have to be shot," said Lampa, who added that a lean and hungry-looking coyote is not starving.


The Coyote

Description: Fur is generally tawny grey and the legs, paws, muzzle and backs of the ears are yellowish in colour. The coyote is smaller and slimmer than the wolf.

Weight: Between 9kg and 23 kg

Diet: The coyote feeds mainly on small mammals, such as mice and hares, carrion, and some vegetation. Packs will occasionally try their luck with deer, but single coyotes have little success in this area.

Habitat: The coyote is found across most of southern and central Canada, and in western Canada as far north as the Yukon.

While coyotes are generally shy and non-confrontational, their increased exposure to humans is making them bolder.
Co-Existing With Coyotes

Coyotes are intelligent, adaptable, curious, experimental and most of all opportunistic! As a rule they are also shy, cautious and non-confrontational. They are drawn to places where they can find 'easy pickings'. They are also creatures of habit and will frequent certain areas in search of food.

Hunting in an urban area is a learned behaviour as is hunting domestic pets or coming in close proximity with humans. By using the preventative tips below we can learn to discourage them from our residential areas and avoid any negative interaction or conflicts.

  1. Never feed coyotes! Do not leave any type of food outdoors for any animal including pets. Bird feeders attract birds, squirrels and rodents which may then in turn attract coyotes.

  2. Garbage should be stored in sealed steel containers and placed at the curb on the day of pick up. Dumpsters must be emptied to prevent overflow and kept closed and locked at night.

  3. Never compost meat products. Do not house poultry or livestock in your yard.

  4. Keep companion animals indoors, never let pets roam at large, and walk your dog on a leash at all times!

  5. A yard must be enclosed with a Solid Wooden 6' fence to prevent coyotes from entering.

  6. Stay away from areas you know coyotes are known to frequent especially during key hunting hours of dusk till dawn.

If you must walk in a park area that is known to have coyote activity:

  • carry a personal audible alarm

  • carry a bright flashlight

  • keep pet leashed

  • carry an umbrella you can open and close to frighten them away

  • avoid key activity hours between dusk and dawn

If you are approached by a coyote:

  • stay calm and wait until they move on

  • if threatened make loud noise or sudden movement to scare them off.

Wolf Safety

Providing food and/or feeding wolves in parks, and not discouraging them from approaching, results in wolves becoming habituated, i.e. not afraid of people.

Normally wolves are secretive and will run away when they encounter people. Some wolves, however, are losing their fear of humans and may approach camping areas and hikers.


Under the Park and Recreation Area Regulations and the Wildlife Amendment Act, it is an offence to feed wildlife. Persons observed feeding wildlife will be charged.

If a wolf appears and acts unafraid or aggressive, take the following action as soon as you notice the animal: 

  • Do not allow the wolf to approach any closer than 100 metres.

  • Raise your arms and wave them in the air to make yourself appear larger. 

  • When in a group, act in unison to send a clear message to the wolves that they are not welcome. 

  • Back away slowly, do not turn your back on the wolf. 

  • Make noise, throw sticks, rocks and sand at the wolf. 

  • Do not allow children to play away from camp. Keep them close to adults at all times. Keep pets leashed and under control. Better still, don't bring them at all. 

  • Keep a clean and orderly camp. Cook and store food away from sleeping areas. Suspend food, toiletries, garbage and other loose objects on a rope between trees, or in secured kayak hatches, out of reach of wildlife. Wolves have been reported removing personal and other non-food items from campsites.
  • Do not bury garbage. If you pack it in - pack it out!

  • Wash dishes in a container and dispose of grey water at sea. 

  • Use areas below high tide mark, away from camp, in an area of high tidal exchange for toilets - do not use the upland areas, wolves will feed on human excrement. 

  • Remember, you are a guest in this environment. This is home to the animals that live here. 

If you encounter a wolf, or any animal that is displaying habituated behaviour (not afraid of people) please report sighting and details to the proper authorities.

Demystifying The Wolf

Why do wolves howl?

Contrary to popular belief, wolves do not howl for the sake of howling at the moon. 

Wolves howl to communicate with other packs, and with other members of their own pack.  Howling likely allows a pack to notify other packs that it is in the area.

Wolves may also howl to attract a mate, and wolves often howl before a hunt, likely to get the pack assembled before they begin.

Wolves will also howl after they have just woken up, after intense periods of social interaction and sometimes after a hunt, possibly to reassemble the pack. 

Wolves will also howl if they are alarmed at the presence of an intruder and wolf pups who have been separated from their pack may howl. 

It's also possible (and likely) that they howl simply because they enjoy doing so.

Can You Tell The Difference?

Can you tell the difference between these sister species?