DNA test confirms identity of wolf that bit teen

(Released September 26, 2013)

DNA tests confirm that the male gray wolf trapped and killed Aug. 26 in the West Winnie Campground on Lake Winnibigoshish is the wolf that bit a 16-year-old male on Aug. 24.

Testing done by forensic scientists at the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California-Davis showed identical matches between the wolf’s DNA profile and the profile of samples obtained from a comforter used when the teen was transported for treatment.

“We were confident that the wolf involved in the attack was removed based on the description and location of the wolf captured following the incident,” said Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “DNA results provide further assurance that the wolf we captured was the animal involved.”

The DNR also received final results this week of the wolf necropsy conducted by the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The necropsy report documented a number of abnormal conditions that may have contributed to it approaching and biting a human, which is not normal wolf behavior.

The wolf, estimated to be 1½ years old, suffered from severe facial deformity, dental abnormalities and brain damage caused by infection, according to Anibal G. Armien, the pathologist and veterinarian at the University of Minnesota who performed the necropsy.
  
It’s likely that the wolf experienced a traumatic injury as a pup and those injuries developed into abnormalities that caused the brain damage, Armien said.

The wolf’s condition likely explains why it was searching for food around the campground, said Dan Stark, the DNR’s large carnivore specialist. In most cases it is extremely rare for a wolf to be scavenging around an area with frequent human activity and not avoid the presence of people. The wolf’s stomach contained only fish spines and scales.

“It’s surprising that a wolf in this condition survived to this point given its reduced ability to survive in the wild,” Stark said.

“We can’t know with certainty why this wolf approached and bit the teen,” Carstensen said. “But the necropsy results support the possibility that its facial deformity, dental abnormalities and brain damage predisposed it to be less wary of people and human activities than what is normally observed in healthy wild wolves and also affected its ability to effectively capture wild prey.”

The teen sustained multiple puncture wounds and a laceration to his head when the wolf approached and bit his head from behind. The injuries were not life-threatening. The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed Aug. 28 that the wolf was not rabid.

Attacks of wild wolves on humans are rare. This was Minnesota’s first documented wild wolf attack on a human that resulted in a significant injury.