Villagers in a remote Alaska region are blaming the death of a 32-year-old schoolteacher on wolves after her body was found along on isolated road, though an autopsy completed Thursday was inconclusive.
The autopsy concluded that Candice Berner was killed by animals, the Alaska State Troopers said. The agency's chief said the autopsy could not determine for sure if wolves were responsible but it ruled out other causes of death.
Col. Audie Holloway said DNA tests might determine whether wolves are responsible.
Berner, who had arrived in Alaska just last August, appeared to have been attacked while jogging and her body pulled off the road, villagers in Chignik Lake told The Anchorage Daily News.
Four people riding snowmachines came across her body about 6:30 p.m. Monday, the newspaper reported.
"There was a blood spot on the road," Gregory Kalmakoff, 23, told the Daily News by phone Wednesday. "I turned around, looked and there was drag marks going down a little hill."
There were wolf tracks in the new snow and footprints left by a person, he said. It appeared something had been dragged off the road, said Kalmakoff's cousin, 24-year-old Jacob Kalmakoff.
"We seen her gloves on the road where she was running," Kalmakoff told the paper. "She didn't get away too far from them; they took her down pretty fast. You could see a blood trail of her body getting drug down the hill."
Alaska State Troopers say there was predation on the body but they haven't concluded whether it was before or after death, the Daily News reported. An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday.
Villagers on edge
Other villagers said they were on edge because the wolves had been coming too close to town lately and armed men had gone out on snowmachines in search of them.
"We approached them last night, but we ended up losing them," Fred Shangin, 32, who is among the hunters. "They were right by the village again. They started running, we started chasing them but they came up to a creek we couldn't get across."
The Daily News said Berner, who was 4 feet, 11 inches tall, came to Alaska in August from Slippery Rock, Pa. She was a special education teacher for the Lake and Peninsula School District who was based in Perryville but traveled to different towns teaching.
"She's a person of adventure. She likes travel," said her father, Bob Berner. "She wanted to see Alaska, and she thought this would be a good way to do that."
Chignik Lake is on the Alaska Peninsula about 500 miles southwest of Anchorage.
Attacks by wolves on humans are extremely rare. If Berner's death is confirmed to be by wolves, it would be the first in Alaska.
A worldwide study by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in 2002 found that that there were between 20 and 30 attacks in all of North America in the 20th century. Of these, three were fatal, all because of rabies. For comparison, during the 20th century there have been 71 fatal grizzly (brown) bear attacks in North America, according to Yellowstone Insider, a weekly newsletter on Yellowstone National Park.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimated in 2008 that there were between 200 and 300 wolves in 30 to 50 packs in the Northern Alaska Peninsula Wolf Management Area, with a wolf density estimated at seven animals per 1,000 square kilometers.
Most adult male wolves in Alaska weigh 85 to 115 pounds but they occasionally reach 145 pounds, according to the Department of Fish and Game. Females average 5 to 10 pounds lighter than males and rarely weigh more than 110 pounds.