The news of a horrific mauling and subsequent death of a zoo handler in Sweden has brought the spotlight on wolves’ natural behaviors, specifically when they are housed in a pack in an artificial environment meant to replicate nature.
A female zookeeper was mauled to death by a pack of eight wolves in Sweden, described by eyewitness accounts to the SUNUK news.
The victim (not yet named) was found by a colleague after fellow zoo workers formed a human chain and rushed the wolves, allowing them access to her remains.
The Sun reports that Jan Tengeborg, one of the rescuers, said: “We couldn’t get into the enclosure because the wolves clearly did not want us in there. You can’t just walk right into a wolf pack.”
Reportedly the same wolf pack attacked TV naturalist Arne Weise when Kolmarden Wildlife Park opened in Braviken Bay, Sweden, in 2007.
The Sun also reports that these wolves who attacked the zookeeper will not be put down.
Monsters and Critics contacted host of Nat Geo WILD’s Expedition Wild and America the Wild, naturalist Casey Anderson, author of ‘The Story of Brutus: My Life with Brutus the Bear and the Grizzlies of North America’ (Amazon) who reflected on this preventable death.
Anderson is a fifth generation Montanan who is deeply involved in film and television production with National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD as a wildlife naturalist, host and actor.
Casey is also the author of “The Story of Brutus: My life with Brutus the Bear and Grizzlies of North America” and is the host and executive producer of the Nat Geo WILD Channel series “Expedition Wild” and “America the Wild”.
Anderson won the coveted 2010 Panda Award for Best Presenter-Led Program for Expedition Grizzly at the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol, UK.
Most famously, he is also the trainer and best friend of Brutus the Bear and the co-owner and director of the Montana Grizzly Encounter, a grizzly bear sanctuary in Bozeman, Montana.
In his book, The Story of Brutus, Casey graphically recounts his own wolf pack attack experience:
“Scars riddle my body. Each its own tattoo of a lesson learned. I wear them with pride, because the birth of each of them I will never forget. A mark of healed flesh that provokes a memory, a moment in my life where I had made a mistake…
The game farm had its own pack of wolves, nine in total. They were wolves that had been purchased as puppies from other game farms or zoos to train for television and film. They all paced anxiously in their own individual kennels waiting for their next opportunity to be a pack. When you train a wolf, often isolation is the best way to get them to want to engage with you one-on-one. While training was mostly work, when they were in a pack, it was mostly play. They cherish the social moment. On the days we didn’t train them, we would put them into an acre size enclosure and let them be a pack again. They would chase each other around, faux fight, wrestle, chew on each other, and just enjoy themselves the way a only wolf can. The yard was full of growls, snarls, yelps, and whining. All examples of wolf happiness.”
“…I have just walked each wolf to the exercise pen and left them alone to mingle. I was standing in the equipment shed when I heard a fight break out. Aggressive growls, snarls, and yelping echoed the surrounding hills as I sprinted through the yard toward the enclosure. As I approached, the fight had ended and run its course. Tundra, the alpha male, stood off to the side with a light smearing of blood across his face. Dakota, the up and coming alpha male, stood in the other corner with the same guilty red markings. Like two prize fighters after an intense round, they breathed heavily and stared at each other across the ring.The rest of the pack paced in chaotic form, confused but, like any mobbing crowd, excited by the scuffle.”
“I entered the enclosure to do some preventative maintenance, and to insure that another wolf brawl would not happen, lest one get seriously injured or even killed. Each member of the pack was very different. All of them liked me, but some were shyer than others and those would take extra attention to catch. I caught Tundra first and returned him to his kennel. He was the leader and likely the instigator of most pack action, so I figured the lack of his presence would extinguish most of the conflict. Fights are part of the whole pack dynamic and common place. It just seemed that this one had got out of hand.”
“I returned to the remaining wolves. The pack was still in a highly anxious state, and Dakota, still separate and standing alone, his head held low like he has just received a beating. He was one of my favorite wolves. Dakota was like a giant puppy when it came to interacting with me. He was a strong, big wolf, that had piercing yellow eyes. But deep down he was almost like a big lap dog, and loved his belly rubbed.
I squatted down and called to him in a baby voice. He wagged his tail in response and started to squirm over to me in a submissive excitement. When he reached me, something suddenly changed. I remember his eyes first. They were dilated, only a sliver of the golden yellow color remained in his now dark empty shark like eyes. Now face to face, he bared his teeth toward me, something he had never happened before. I stood up quickly, confused and angry. I yelled at him sternly “NO!” The sharp word was echoed with the sound of the tearing of heavy denim and flesh from the back of my leg. Denali, another adult male wolf had just sunk his teeth through my insulated Carhartt overalls into my hamstring. There was more than one shark in this tank. I whirled around and confronted my attacker. Again, I yelled a very unforgiving “No” and pointed my finger at him, which was all I could try and do at this stage.”
“I was completely baffled by the way the wolves were reacting. Just as i regained my bearings after being bitten, i was suddenly attacked from behind again. This time, when I turned, it was Dakota, the wolf I thought was my biggest ally. I remember the crushing pressure of his massive jaws as they popped through my calf. I was lost in confusion and panic. As I stared into Dakota’s empty eyes, i was sucker punched from behind again. When I spun to face what was now a full-on assault, the world went into slow motion. There was no sound, just the ominous image of a pack of eight wolves surrounding me. There was nothing else in the world but me and the ring of savage canines that were closing in.”
“Their eyes were all dark and emotionless. Their tails flicked back and forth as they each lunged in and took their turn chomping down on my legs. When I would turn to face a wolf, another was attacking me from behind. I screamed for help, but I knew I was alone. All of my co workers had left for the day. There was no one for miles. My screams became more desperate, my increasing panic only fueled the frenzy of the wolf pack . I kicked and screamed. All I could do was just try and keep my balance as each wolf delivered a gripping bite and tried to tug me to the ground. If I was to fall now, I would never get up, certain to die in the terror of a wild dog pile. I threw empty punches, and twisted violently around and around like a terrorized tornado.”
“They continued to swarm me relentlessly and I could feel my adrenaline laden body begin to succumb to fatigue. In my attempt to escape, I had somehow made my way to the fence amidst the craze. I jumped over the four foot high fence and crumpled to the ground. I looked up, and eight sets of empty, black wolf eyes peered at me through the wire. I rose to my feet slowly and assessed the damage.
There I stood, in what were insulated heavy denim overalls, now shredded blood-stained “Daisy Duke” shorts. My legs looked like hamburger and every puncture hole leaked a stream of red that now weaved its way through the hair of my legs. I staggered to my truck. I had a 45 minute drive to the hospital, all alone, no phone. I needed to get there before I passed out from shock or loss of blood. My legs throbbed in pain the entire way, and i could feel my head getting lighter.”
“I pulled up at the emergency entrance of the Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and swung my door open. My first step on to the pavement was excruciating, and as I stumbled towards the door, my boots sloshed with the blood that now filled them. The nurse greeted me at the door and asked me what happened. I remember their doubtful faces when i weakly uttered ” I was attacked by a pack of wolves.” I know they thought i was crazy, or in the very least, delirious from the loss of blood. I was happy when I saw my regular doctor. He knew what I did for a living, and this wasn’t the first time he had to put a stitch in me, nor would it be his last…”
Anderson gave Monsters and Critics his expert take on this wolf pack mauling story from Sweden:
“I was saddened when I heard of the poor woman that was killed in Sweden by a pack of wolves she cared for. I too have experienced the terror she did. Unlike her, I was lucky to survive,” says Anderson.
One thing I always keep in mind when working with wild animals in captivity is they are wild animals. The moment I let my guard down and forget this simple thought, could be my last,” adds Anderson.
“I have this deeply seared into my mind because of a few times I did become complacent. I have the scars and stories to prove it, but most importantly the experience to learn from.”
The secret lives of the wolf has been studied by Anderson for years. “A wolf pack is a very socially dynamic system. Every individual has it’s spot and is treated accordingly. Fights, blood, and teeth is an everyday experience in the pack. For a wolf, it is just a way of life. As a caretaker of a wolf pack, a person will also fit into this hierarchy. This structure is ever evolving and ever changing in status, mostly determined by the strongest animals. A human that is embedded into the structure usually is at the top, and is the dominate ‘animal’, and is not exempt of the rules of the pack. But like every wolf pack in the world, the rest of the pack is waiting and watching for its opportunity to move up the ranks.”
Observation and reading physical signs is key for any professional handler according to Anderson. “They are looking for flaws in confidence, weakness of an individual to take advantage of. In the moment of that test, it is important for that individual, wolf or human, to remain calm and assertive of its rank. If panic or confusion erupts, an all out frenzy can occur, particularly when the ‘top dog’ is at stake. It is every wolf for itself at that point as the pack is falling apart.”
There’s no coda of mercy with wolves, and life in the pack is a challenge, even for a fellow wolf. “I have witnessed members of a pack killing their own in such an occurrence, and have been a victim to a similar attack. Once a wolf is on top, there is only one way to go, and in the brutal wild world, that usually means death for that animal.”
The Swedish wolf attack gave Anderson a moment to speculate on what might have happened. And what lessons anyone can take with them when dealing with wild animals overall.
“I do not know exactly what happen that day in Sweden but I can only speculate. It started with one wolf testing the woman, she reacted the wrong way. This would catch the eye of the rest of the pack, who would then move in and surround her. Alone, she likely panicked and was confused by the situation, as these wolves were her friends. This would be the catalyst to her fate. She likely fought back in self preservation. The heightened tension would fuel the attack until she was brought to absolute submission. When you decide to work with wild animals, this is a risk that is very real. In this case, she was killed by the wolves that she loved.”
“She should have never entered that enclosure alone and should have been armed with bear pepper spray or the like. We as humans have advantages with the use of tools and our mind. When you take that away and get to common ground with the wild, you can also be part of its beautiful savagery.”
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