When Bill Clinton’s administration acted in 1995 and 1996 to deliberately re-introduce wolves into the 2.2 million acre Yellowstone National Park, there were the predictable jokes about Clinton’s wolf whistling in the Oval Office. How could you get sympathy from Clinton, ranchers and Western cattlemen groused, he’s a wolf himself! Other bitter, politically incorrect jokes appeared on bumper stickers: “Smoke a pack a day,” was the legend with a picture of a wolf. It was and is a serious issue. Environmentalists strongly believe that the hunting of wolves to extinction that occurred in America had seriously unbalanced our ecology in the Western lands. By the 1930s, gray wolves were virtually unknown in the West.Whether wolves constitute a danger to humans has been endlessly debated. Environmentalists repeated the claim that there was no documented case of a human being killed by wolves in North America. In 2005, Kenton Carnegie, 22, an Ontario university student, was killed in remote Points North Landing, Saskatchewan. A coroner’s jury verdict on the cause of his death became a flash point in the ongoing controversy. Searchers testified they found young Carnegie’s body “surrounded by wolves.” But still, some experts denied that a wolf attack had killed him. More likely a black bear, they said. So what were those wolves doing at the site, rubbernecking? The jury wasn’t buying that expert’s testimony. The jury ruled it a death by wolf attack. The tragic death of young Kenton Carnegie thus became a turning point in history: his was the first documented case of healthy wolves killing a human.
This shocking story would not have surprised Will Graves. The former U.S. Agriculture Department staffer is an expert in infectious diseases. His life experience includes living in Mexico as a youth, traveling widely in Canada and the Mountain states of the U.S., and, of vital importance, research and writing in Russia. Will Graves is a skilled Russian linguist, a skill he learned in the U.S. Air Force. His book, Wolves in Russia: Anxiety through the Ages, is an important contribution to the debate over wolves. Graves shows how wolves communicate a host of deadly diseases—including rabies, anthrax, and hoof-in-mouth disease. These are especially dangerous to American livestock. Even if the wolves do not kill the ranchers’ herds, they can infect them. If you’re tempted to romanticize a wolf pack, think of how romantic is a rat pack.