Death By Wolves And Misleading Advocacy. The Kenton Carnegie Tragedy
December 31, 2008
Reprinted with permission from the author.
On November 8th 2005 a 22-year-old honors and scholarship student in Geological Engineering, Kenton Joel Carnegie, from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, was killed in northern Saskatchewan by a pack of wolves. While he was almost certainly not the only victim of wolf predation in North America in the past century, judging from conversations with native people, and a closer review of case histories, this was the best-investigated case to date . In the process of that investigation matters were uncovered that need to be discussed as they have significant policy implications for wildlife conservation and human safety. However, we need to review what happened to Kenton Carnegie, as it is relevant to considerations following.
Mr. Carnegie was in a university co-op program that allowed students to gain hands-on experience from visits to mining operations. He was flown in to Points North Landing a mining camp close to Wollaston Lake in northern Saskatchewan. Bad weather delayed his return. On November the 4th, 2005, Todd Svarchopf, an experienced bush pilot and Chris Van Galder, a geophysicists, two of Kenton’s camp companions, had an encounter with two aggressive wolves on the airfield close to camp. The two young men beat back the attack, photograph the wolves and told everybody in camp. The incident was apparently belittled, even though two days before Kenton was killed, the young men were warned at a dinner at a local lodge by an experienced northerner, Bill Topping (a part-time car pilot, that is, a guide who leads heavy trucks through the labyrinth of dirt roads in northern Saskatchewan). He admired the pictures and told his guests that they are lucky to be alive!
In fall and early winter of 2005 at Point North Landing there was evidence for circumstances facilitating an attack on humans by wolves, followed by the predictable exploratory attack by wolves on November 4th. That is, the events leading to the death of Kenton Carnegie follow the pattern predicting attacks on humans as described for wolves and earlier for urban coyotes targeting children in parks. It is a pattern of increasing observations of and habituation to humans followed by boldness and attacks on pets and livestock, followed by closing in and testing humans with skirmishes prior to the fatal attack. Both species of canids explore alternative prey in much the same manner. Unfortunately, nobody recognized the growing danger . Moreover, how wolves target people was not a question asked by current wolf biologists, probably due to the overriding belief that wolves do not attack people. Four wolves at Points North Landing had begun feeding on camp refuse that fall and were habituating increasingly to human activities.
November 8th 2005, at about15:30 Kenton Carnegie notified Van Gelder that he was going for a walk along the lake and expected to return by 17:00. Kenton had gone to the west shore of Wollaston Lake before when going fishing. This area is isolated and not open to unauthorized traffic. At about 18:15, because Kenton failed to appear for dinner, Chris Van Galder and Todd Svarchopf search for him, but could not find him in camp. Todd saw Kenton’s tracks in the fresh snow leaving camp, but not returning. About 18:30. Chris and Todd and Mark Eikel, co-owner of the camp, drove out in a truck searching for Kenton. Fresh snow had fallen and the party followed the clear footprints, which head south from camp. Because of the fresh snow, the tracks were easy to follow (this accounts for the crisp foot-prints of wolves etc. as photographed the following mid-day by Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP] Constable Alfonse Noey). Kenton’s tracks headed towards the shore of the Lake. When Eikel and companions encountered wolf tracks, they reversed, and headed back to camp for Eikel to get his rifle, a more powerful flashlight and a radio. (There were no domestic dogs at Point North Landing). The party then drove to a nearby cabin, thinking Kenton might be there, but found none of his footprints. They returned by truck to where they had left of and soon saw that Kenton’s footprints left the road and headed down a trail toward the lake. There were wolf tracks on the trail. Then they saw Kenton’s footprints doubling back, and found a concentration of wolf tracks. Mark Eikel shone about with the flashlight and saw what he thought was Kenton’s body. He ordered everybody back to the truck, not wanting the others to see the sight. (Neither Todd nor Chris saw Kenton’s body). On the way to camp Mark Eikel called on the radio Robert Dennis (Bob) Burseth an employee of the camp, a long-term resident of the north and an experienced hunter. (19:00 hours) Burseth realized something tragic had happened and contacted his wife Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth who is the local coroner at Wollaston Lake, and asked her to contact the RCMP. Next, Chris Van Galder called the RCMP from camp and the company office was notified. About 19:30 Eikel and Burseth returned by truck to check on Kenton. Eikel believed that Kenton was dead, but he wanted to make sure that his mind was not playing tricks on him and he wanted to get a second opinion. They parked the truck and walked down the ridge on the edge of the lake noting many wolf tracks. Mark Eikel shone with the flashlight and both could see Kenton’s body. They saw exposed flesh and ribs, from the belt up. The pants appeared to be on. Eikel and Burseth approached to within thirty feet. They stayed only a couple of minutes and returned to camp to await police and coroner, which arrived about 21:35 PM.
Neither Bob Burseth nor Mark Eikel returned to the body till they went there with RCMP constable Alfonse Noey and coroner Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth. Kenton’s body had been moved from where Mark Eikel and Bob Burseth had seen it some two hours earlier. The distance moved was about 20 yards. Officer Noey’s hand drawn map indicating the body was dragged 20 meters, a distance which he paced out the next day. (Wolves readily move their kills – even over a mile -as I can personally attest to having observed what they do with domestic sheep carcasses. That wolves move carcasses and human victims is well established in Eurasian experience. ). Much more of the body had been consumed (there was no clothing down to the knees). Asked by Constable Noey what had consumed the body, Burseth stated wolves. Asked by Constable Noey what kind of tracks Burseth had seen on location, Burseth replied that he had seen only wolf tracks. There had been four wolves running together about camp earlier (a black one, a white one and two gray-tan ones). The four had been seen on the runway (close to camp) on the day before, on the 7th of November. Burseth also saw three wolves running across the lake towards the kill site at about 7:45 AM on the morning following Kenton’s death, that is, on the 9th of November. Eikel confirmed that four wolves had been seen near the camp and garbage dumpsite.
About 21:50 Constable Noey and coroner Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth begin securing and inspecting the site. Constable Noey took the lead, and the coroner and Bob Burseth and Mark Eikel followed him in single file. (This minimizes disturbance to the original tracks). As Constable Noey approached the site of Kenton’s body he saw two wolves near the body (he refers to sighting these two wolves repeatedly in his report and in conversations with others). He discharged two rounds from his shotgun into the air to scare away the wolves from the body. Constable Noey noted many wolf tracks on the land and on the snow of the frozen lake. Constable Noey ordered Burseth and Eikel to remain on the trail, while he and the coroner went in to examine Kenton’s body. Eikel was instructed by Constable Noey to discharge his rifle into the air, as the wolves could be heard in the bushes near to the body. Bob Buresth made a fire on the trail certain it would keep the wolves away.
Constable Noey and Mrs. Tsannie-Burseth examined and photographed the body and surroundings for 40-45 minutes. Then Constable Noey called Constable Marion on a satellite phone and advised him of the condition of the body, and of the wolves in the area, at which point Constable Marion authorized the removal of Kenton’s body and the return of the party to Points North Landing. With the assistance of Eikel and Burseth, the coroner and Constable Noey placed Kenton’s body into a body bag, which was tagged by Constable Noey with time and date. At that time Constable Noey discovered that his GPS unite was missing, and searched the immediate area of the last resting site (disturbing site – after the fact!). He instructed Eikel to insure that nobody be allowed to enter the area and was assured by Eikel that only CAMECO employees may use the road between their mine (Cigar Lake Mine) and the Points North Landing, and that they have been instructed not to get out of their vehicles close to the camp. Constable Noey next took down witness statements.
On the following day, November 9th 2005, at 13:00-14:14 Constable Noey, coroner Tsannie-Burseth and Bob Burseth attended again to the scene in daylight taking pictures, and analyzed the scene. Here are their joint results as summarized in the report by constable Noey.
1. The footprints of Kenton heading south were followed by a wolf who stepped into Kenton’s footprints (this wolf had thus cut off Kenton from the camp, as the two wolves had tried to do on November the 4th with Chris and Todd). Constable Noey surmised that this wolf was following and possibly stalking Kenton.
2. Constable Noey followed Kenton’s footprint south past the kill site, which went for a distance of about 60-80 meters (undisturbed by previous day’s activities). Here Kenton was on the shoreline. Noey surmised that Kenton, at this point in sight of the camp, may have been trying to get somebody’s attention at the camp as there was a clear line of sight to the camp.
3. At this point more wolf tracks converged on where Kenton stood, so the report by Constable Noey. The wolf tracks were coming from the south along the lakeshore. (Several wolves approached from the south while one wolf approached Kenton from the north. That looks like a hunting strategy executed by the wolves. Since several wolves approached Kenton from the south, and one wolf from the north, there must have been more than 2 wolves involved. He was thus killed by at least three wolves and possibly by all four!)
4. Here Kenton’s footprints turned back towards the road (that is up the trail, heading north toward the camp).
5. From here it is 10-20 m along the trail before the snow is disturbed, indicating an altercation. Constable Noey noted that the snow was disturbed as if somebody was rolling in the snow.
6. Footprints now head across the trail a little way into the muskeg-shrub. The footprints indicate that Kenton was running. He was half on trail, half on muskeg. There was a lot of disturbance of the snow.
7. From here it is a short distance north to the kill site, where the body was first discovered along with pieces of clothing. When seen a second time the body had been dragged about 20 yds.
8. In between were two sites where the tracks indicated that Kenton stood and shed a lot of blood. (Photos indicate considerable blood loss). A third place indicates he stood and dripped blood. The search party found the body there.
Constable Noey photographed till the battery of his camera gave out and collected all clothing pieces not found previously.
14:31 Constable Noey received a CD with photos of Van Galder and Svarchopf interacting with two wolves on the previous Friday, November 4th from Christy Oysteryk, and expresses surprise that neither had informed him of that attack. (In short, this attack by wolves, which the two young men were able to beat off – and photograph – was belittled. It was only post hoc, after Kenton’s death that the scary significance of that attack did sink in).
Two Conservation Officers from the Saskatchewan game department (SERM), Kelly Crayne and Mario Gaudet, arrived on the 10th in order to do their investigation. They stated in their report: “Officers investigated the site and found numerous wolf tracks in the area. No other large animal tracks could be found.”
In the light of what was to follow it is important to examine the nature and qualifications at tracking of the eight witnesses who were on the scene after Kenton was killed.
Mrs. Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth is not only the coroner for Walloston Lake, but also the Chief of the Hatchet Lake Band, and the Director of Education. She has three university degrees, is working on her doctorate in sociology, and has a long career in the public service. She grew up in the northern bush when her family was still nomadic and fully dependent on their skills at hunting, fishing and trapping, and was tutored by her father in tracking. This articulate, humorous grandmother still goes hunting.
RCMP Constable Alfonse Noey is, like Chief Tsannie-Burseth, a native, a hunter and a long-standing northern resident. (He produced a detailed report, based on his and Mrs Tsannie- Burseth’s on the spot investigations, as well as questioning all witnesses to the scene).
Robert Dennis (Bob) Burseth, employee at Points North Landing, has 17 years of experience in the region. He is married to the local coroner and chief Mrs. Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth. He is an avid hunter. (He killed the two wolves (at the dump) after Kenton’s attack. Shoots the bears that become a nuisance at the camp).
Todd Svarchopf, Aviation Officer and well-known bush pilot, employee of Sanders Geophysics, Ottawa, working out of camp. (He testified at the coroner’s inquiry that he had warned Kenton against going out).
Mark Eikel, the co-owner of the camp, Points North Landing, is an experienced outdoorsman and hunter. He shot the third wolf (250 – 300 yards away) after Kenton’s attack. (He claimed he would have seen a bear if it had been in the area. None had been seen for at least a month (inquiry testimony).
Chris Van Galder, geophysicist, employee of Sanders Geophysics, Ottawa, working out of the camp.
Kelly Crayne and Mario Gaudet, Conservation Officers, also examine the site on November 10th 2005. (Any black bear moving in or out of the site of Kenton’s body would have been detected in the crisp snow by these men).
Please note: the tracks and signs at the scene were thus examined by two senior native persons highly experiences in tracking, by two experienced northern hunters, by two conservation officers, by a seasoned bush pilot, and a highly trained physical scientist. Svarchopf, Van Galder and Eikel, who were first on the scene, identified only wolf tracks. They were vindicated by Bob Burseth, as he insisted that he saw only wolf tracks. He in turn was vindicated by RCMP constable Noey and coroner Tsannie-Burseth, who not only saw only wolf tracks at the site, but also saw and heard wolves so close to Kenton’s body, that Constable Noey fired his shotgun twice to spook the wolves away and asked Mark Eikel to discharge his rifle. Conservation officers Crayne and Gaudet also saw only wolf tracks. In addition, constable Noey and coroner Tsannie-Burseth, not merely identified wolves as the killers of Kenton Carnegie, but deciphered the track pattern left by wolves, showing a classic hunt pattern by wolves. The wolf pack had split and the wolves approached their prey from the back as well as from the front, cutting off any possible retreat. They documented multiple attacks and a progression of the victim to final collapse. Moreover, four wolves had been for weeks habituating to camp activity, ran in anticipation towards garbage disposal units and tore apart plastic garbage bags in the presence of humans, observed humans and staged an unsuccessful attack on two camp residents four days before they killed Kenton Carnegie.
Then came a surprise: The Saskatchewan coroner asked for the case to be re-examined by scientists, Drs. Paul Paquet, a wolf researcher, and Professor Ernest G. Walker of the University of Saskatchewan. Before their confidential report was submitted, Paquet informed the popular news media that he recognized immediately that a black bear had killed Carnegie. In pp. 29-30 of National Wildlife, February/March 2007 edition in an article entitled “Sexy Beasts” by Paul Tolmé we read: “Wolves remain a bogeyman today, as illustrated by the death of a Canadian man in 2005. When Kenton Carnegie’s mangled corpse was discovered near a remote Saskatchewan mining camp of Points North Landing, the Royal Canadian Mounted police immediately blamed wolves. The story made headlines around the world. But when noted wolf biologist Paul Paquet of the World Wildlife Fund investigated, he recognized immediately that a black bear killed Carnegie. “The problem was bias right from the start,” Paquet says. “When I looked at the photos, I immediately saw bear tracks,” Paquet says.” The National Geographic Society sent a team to film and re-enact Kenton’s death. Dr. Paquet acted as consultant. (Kenton’s parents were so upset by the resulting “documentary” that they wrote a letter of protest to the Society. Mrs. Tsannie-Burseth told me that she was upset and offended by the manner the camera and interview crew of the National Geographic had treated her. She told me she tried to speak to Paul Paquet at the inquest, but that he would not speak with here or even make eye contact with her). Victims of wildlife tragedies in North America tend to be blamed for the event , and it was not different in Kenton’s case. It greatly upset Kenton’s family, as did the brazen whitewash of wolves that could not only mislead the public, but also the judiciary. Distraught by the treatment they had received and the mis-attributions to their son, Kenton’s parents turned to four scientists and asked them to do independent investigations. Three agreed: Mark McNay ,a senior biologist from Alaska, Brent Patterson, as seasoned scientist from Ontario with considerable wolf experience, and the third was myself. All three wrote reports concluding that Paquet’s claim that a bear had killed Kenton Carnegie was untenable, and that wolves had killed Kenton Carnegie.
Paquet claimed the eyewitness accounts were unreliable and biased, an unsupported claim contrary to all evidence.
Paquet examining the photos of the site as photographed by RCMP constable Noey, mistook the tracks of wolves heading across an overflow on the lake ice (where the wolves stepped through a thin layer of snow resting on water, and which consequently distorted their tracks) as bear tracks. McNay and myself used colleagues highly experienced with wolves (he from Alaska, I from Finland) to double check on our identifications. All concluded that the tracks in question as photographed by constable Noey were wolf tracks, and McNay demonstrated that the pattern of the distorted tracks on the overflow were of a regular canid trotting pattern, and quite different from the track patterns left by bears. That is, three independent peer reviews confirmed what the eight eyewitnesses on the site had observed.
Paquet claimed that a number of forensic signs identified the responsible predator as bear. These were that:
(a) wolves do not drag their prey from the kill site but consume such in situ. Yet Kenton’s body, he claimed, had been dragged some 50 paces (In North America the experience of wolf biologists studying free-living wolves in wilderness areas is that wolves feed on their prey in situ. In my personal experience here with wolves killing my neighbor’s sheep is that they always move their kills into cover, up to about one mile from the sheep pasture. The European accounts of how wolves deal with prey, livestock and humans included, is that they carry or drag such into cover away from where they attacked the prey close to human habitations . The resolution of what appears as opposites is quite simple: wolves, undisturbed, consume their kill at the kill site. Wolves, disturbed or close to danger, move their kill. And that’s what happened in the Kenton Carnegie’s case. The wolves fed at the kill site till they were disturbed by the first search party. When the second party arrived, the wolves had dragged Kenton’s body about 20 m – not 50 m.).
(b) Paul Paquet is quoted in the National Wildlife article p. 30 “The clothes and skin been stripped away, indicating the so-called banana-peel eating technique common to bears”). (How could Paquet know that? How many clothed human bodies handled by wolves have been available for examination in North America? Moreover, he ignored that the four wolves in question had plenty of experience ripping apart and peeling back the plastic of plastic garbage bags, saturated with human smell, in order to reach discarded camp food).
(c) The wolves had not consumed the victim’s liver and heart, which is also very uncharacteristic of wolves. I quote from National Wildlife: “Carnegie’s heart and liver -”the most desirable morsel for wolves” Paquet says – were left intact”. (Internal organs had been consumed – namely the ones surrounded by fat. And that fits with my own observations how wolves, disrupted by approaching humans, “scheduled” their feeding on sheep they killed: fat first. Paquet did not take into account that the wolves had been disturbed twice and were not able to finish with the corps. Furthermore, on p. 48 of Will Grave’s book on the Russian experience with wolves a Russian scientist reports that wolves, in feeding on a freshly killed moose, the heart, lungs and liver had not been touched. Dr. Kaarlo Nygren from Finland made similar findings.
However, ALL forensic signs of a “bear” presume that the bear was standing or moving in about 1.5 inches of fresh snow. For instance, if a bear peeled away the clothing, then the bear must have had his paws on the ground in the snow. Also, the bear must have moved in on the kill site, leaving tracks, dragged the body, leaving tracks, ran way when the first search party arrived, leaving track, returned to the carcass, leaving tracks, and left again when the second party arrived – again leaving tracks. And he would have done so all on land. There would have been massive bear track sign of multiple entries and exits and massive trampling around the body.
There were no bear tracks!
My Finnish colleagues, spontaneously, identified a lonely fox track beside the abundant wolf tracks.
If they found the track of a fox, would they have missed the tracks of a bear?
All the forensic sign pointing to “bear”, as proclaimed by Paquet, are thus misidentifications, as the only bear that could have left such signs at the site of the tragedy must have been suspended in mid-air, as none of his paws reached the telltale snow. Furthermore, Paquet’s repeated insistence that his approach alone was in the spirit and methodology of science, and was supported by superior experience, has demonstrably no basis, as shown by three peer reviews and the coroner’s inquest.
Moreover, Paquet failed to notice that the wolves involved were not merely habituating, but were targeting people as prey. Wolves do this in the very same manner as coyotes do in urban parks when targeting children. Both canids explore humans very cautiously and over a protracted time period before mounting the first, exploratory attack, which two wolves had done four days before Kenton’s death. Ironically, while coyote biologists recognized that the smaller coyote will target people as prey, those studying free living wolves were denying that wolves were a danger to people. While the behavior of wolves thus signaled a disaster waiting to happen, nobody recognized it as such even after the failed wolf attack on Van Gelder and Swarchopf four days prior to the attack on Kenton. The belief in the harmlessness of wolves was that firmly entrenched.
The coroner ruled that only one expert witness would be allowed to testify on behalf of the Carnegies’ and chose Mark McNay. After listening to eyewitnesses at the scene, to Paul Paquet and the presentation by Mark McNay, the six-person jury rejected Paquet’s presentation, unanimously, despite his being assisted by counsel. The jury ruled that the cause of Kenton Carnegie’s death were wolves.
1 There have been other victims such as five-year-old Marc Leblond, killed Sept. 24, 1963 north of Baie-Comeau, Quebec Gerard McNebel, Noember 18th, 1963, Winnipeg Free Press, p. 12.
2 The following draft of a paper on wildlife habituation I presented at a symposium entitled “Wildlife Habituation: Advances in Understanding and Management Application”. by The Wildlife Society in Madison, Wisconsin on Sept. 27th 2005. Due to personal circumstances I was not able to finish this paper for publication. It is entitled: Habituation of wildlife to humans: research tool, key to naturalistic recording and common curse for wildlife and hapless humans. I published the relevant excerpt on wolves as Appendix B pp. 195-197 in Will N. Graves 2007 Wolves in Russia. AnxietyTthrough the Ages.(edited by V. Geist). Detselig, Calgary.
3 Baker, R. O. and R. M. Timm 1998. Management of conflict between urban coyotes and humans in southern California. Pp. 229-312 in R. O. Baker and A. c. Crabb eds. Proc. 18th Vertebrate Pest Conference, University of California, Davis).
4 The advocacy in favor of the “benign wolf” hypothesis is so powerful, that the better educated the persons, the more likely it seems that they are to become true believers and endanger themselves. So far exceptionally well-educated people have become victims of lethal attacks. Kenton Carnegie is not the only victim of the “harmless wolf hypothesis”. So was 24-year-old Wildlife Biologist, Trisha Wyman, who was killed on April 18th 1996 by a captive wolf pack in Ontario. I had a long phone conversation with Dr. Erich Klinghammer of Wolf Park. He was called in as an expert witness to examine the Wyman case, and discovered quickly that there was great surprise at her death, as wolves are not supposed to attack people. Ms Wyman had visited the park previously and spent some time studying the wolves. She was given the dream job of looking after and interpreting the wolves. She lasted three days! She and the people surrounding here, just like Kenton and the people surrounding him, were imbued by the myth of the “harmless wolves” as advocated by North American wolf specialists in the late 50’s and 60’s. Keepers of wolf packs can inform themselves by turning to the people running Wolf Park. These have been researching wolves for decades and have detailed advice on how to handle captive wolves and wolf-dog hybrids. They would have been quickly disabused of any naïve faith in conventional, but mis-presented science about harmless wolves.
5 See pp. 87-104. chapter six in Graves (2007) ibid.
6 James Gary Shelton 1998 Bear Attacks. Pogany Productions, Hagensborg, BC. Shelton makes a point of how viciously victims of predatory attacks have been pursued and maligned in Canada and the US by enumerating such in some detail.
7 Will Graves 2007 chapter six. ibid
8 in an e-mail of March 28, 2007 Dr. Nygren wrote to me: “They (the wolf pack) ate one ear and tip of the tongue when waiting for their turn in the abdominal cavity. The fore-stomachs were left largely untouched until almost all the good stuff was taken from the intestines. So did the liver, heart and lungs. They were taken out almost ten hours later when all the pups and their mother were lying flat around the place with their stomachs full. Then, almost in the midnight, the male came in starting to rip the carcass in pieces. A bite and a kilogram or two. He ate as much as he pleased, then pulled out the liver, ate some of it and dropped. Soon, he started to walk towards the sleepy pups who immediately jumped up and hurried to meet him with cheerful faces, tails wagging and showing submissive gestures. They looked funny with their round bellies and saw-buck like appearance. A roundish white spot cranially from their thighs on the belly coat had appeared and was visible even in the dim light of autumn. This seems to be a good visual sign of a well-fed wolf. When they poked the father’s lips with their noses, he threw up everything what was in his stomach. The pups immediately ate up it. and returned to their beds. The male walked back to work, filled his stomach and did the feeding procedure several times. He seemed to have a pet among the pups. It was the smallest, a female always chased out first by the mother and siblings. The female never fed the pups like the father. In the next morning, the flesh of the prey was practically stripped off with bare bones protruding and some legs completely cut off the carcass. So, the fat reserves seemed to be the preferred bits, not the liver, heart and lungs. We have seen the same many times in the field. Guts first. Even the dogs are usually first opened from the belly and the abdominal cavity emptied. I have seen many dogs cut in two around the diaphragm, caudal halve eaten completely or transported somewhere. Heart and lungs are, in many case, were left inside the breast cavity”.
9 Baker, R. O. and R. M. Timm 1998. Management of conflict between urban coyotes and humans in southern California. Pp. 229-312 in R. O. Baker and A. c. Crabb eds. Proc. 18th Vertebrate Pest Conference, University of California, Davis).
Valerius Geist, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science, The University of Calgary
Draft April 22nd, 2008.
Essay no. 2. Fair Chase