Village on alert for rabid wolves

Injured sled dogs euthanized after attack that left six dead

Posted: Monday, November 05, 2007

ANCHORAGE - 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.

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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.

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