Alaskan village on alert for more wolves after attack on dogs
Sunday, November 4, 2007
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Children in the village of Marshall do not go out alone without an adult. They have been told to stay inside after dark. When night falls, three sentries are posted along the village periphery to keep the wolves out.
Precautions have been taken in the Eskimo village in western Alaska after a pack of wolves last week attacked sled dogs, killing three adults and three puppies. A wolf killed by villagers turned out to be rabid.
"There is a concern about the pack that is left remaining that is wandering out there," he said. "That pack is still out there and might have the rabies."
On Friday morning, fresh wolf tracks were spotted a quarter-mile from town, said Ray Alstrom, mayor of Marshall.
Ron Clarke, assistant director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said it is likely that all members of the pack are infected with the fatal disease.
"It is likely all of them will die of it," he said.
Rabies is spread through saliva and attacks the nervous system.
The only way to determine if an animal is rabid is to cut off the head and test it.
It is usually universally fatal in animals and humans.
Marshall, with 380 residents, has dozens of dogs. Alstrom said many homes have at least a few dogs to help haul fish, check trap lines and bring home firewood.
The wolf pack attacked three dog teams, one belonging to Clem Kameroff. His lead dog, a 10-year-old female, was badly injured. She had to be shot and her carcass burned. Kameroff said another injured dog, a 2-year-old, was put down Friday.
"I am kind of hurting about it and feeling sad about it," Kameroff said. He uses the dogs for subsistence and in village races.
The wolf that was killed by villagers was tested for rabies this week. Tests were performed by the Alaska State Virology Laboratory in Fairbanks on the 17-month-old female.
Kimberlee Beckmen, a wildlife veterinarian with the Department of Fish and Game, said rabies is rare in wolves in Alaska, but the other pack members may be infected.
"Rabies virus is present in saliva, and when several animals eat from the same source, the virus can be quickly spread to other members of the pack," she said.
Indications of rabies include drooling, staggering, abnormal fearfulness or aggressiveness.
According to state epidemiologists, three people have died from rabies in Alaska. Two of the three cases involved wolves, the other one was a dog. The last case was in 1943 in Wainwright.
The Department of Health and Social Services is advising that unvaccinated dogs that came in contact with the wolves in Marshall be euthanized to prevent spreading the disease. Those dogs that also were attacked but were vaccinated previously should be immediately vaccinated again and then confined and observed for 45 days.
Brian Lefferts, environmental health officer with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., said if an unvaccinated dog has been bitten or in contact with a rabid wolf and is not euthanized, it must be quarantined for six months.
Only 18 wolves have tested positive for rabies in Alaska since 1977. The last confirmed case was in Dillingham in 1998.
Marshall resident Tony Boliver lost a female and three puppies in the wolf attack. He ended up shooting and burning eight dogs that were bitten by the wolves. His remaining seven dogs that weren't injured are in a fenced area.
"I am not worried anymore. My dogs are fenced in now. I am still worried for other teams that aren't fenced," he said.
Wolf encounters with dogs are a fact of life in rural Alaska.
"They kill them and eat them," Clarke said. "A wolf pack wondering by goes, 'Wow, look at that. There's an easy meal."'
Foxes carry rabies in Alaska. Clarke said it is possible the wolf became infected while feeding on a moose or caribou carcass and a fox darted in and stole some meat.
"A wolf might have snapped at a fox and the fox nipped back and got a little saliva in a wound and that's all it takes," he said.
This year, the state Department of Health and Social Services began a lay vaccinator program to certify people to administer rabies vaccine to dogs and cats.
An environmental health officer sent Friday to Marshall to help vaccinate dogs was stuck in bad weather in Kwigillingok. Plans were to try and get someone to Marshall next week to help vaccinate dogs, Lefferts said.
Meanwhile, Marshall residents are doing what needs to be done to try and prevent a rabies outbreak, Alstrom said.
"All the dogs that were involved have been put away and their carcasses have been burned," he said.
The village also has individuals looking for loose dogs that may have come in contact with the wolf pack. Twelve loose dogs were killed over two days.
"The residents know it is a safety and health issue right now and that we have to do this," Alstrom said.