It’s the call that no game warden ever wants to receive. However, at some point in our careers, many of us will get one.

“We have just received a report that a bear has attacked two hikers. Police and EMS are en route to the scene. One hiker was fatally wounded, and the other has minor injuries and is waiting for firstresponders at the trail head. Witnesses report that a bear is still at the scene. What's your ETA?”

     Fortunately, wildlife-human attacks are rare in North America, but in most jurisdictions, they do occur almost every year. Game wardens are generally called on as first responders to ensure the scene is safe and secure, to capture or euthanize suspect predators, and to conduct an investigation to determine what happened, how it happened, and who (which animal) was responsible for the attack. Bears, cougars, wolves, and coyotes are powerful carnivores equipped with sharp claws and teeth capable of inflicting
serious injury. In the event of a reported wildlife attack it is a game warden’s job to conduct a professional investigation to determine the circumstances of the attack, the victim’s injuries, what animal(s) were responsible for the attack, and to determine whether the responsible animal(s) should be captured or euthanized in the interest of public safety. It should be noted that not all wildlifehuman
attack reports end up being actual attacks. Rather, many are determined to be near misses, where the animal never physically contacted a human at all, or false reports where people have made up the entire story, or where the fatality is the result of foul play. It is crucial that game wardens be well trained in the field of wildlife-human attack response and investigations so when they are called
upon they are qualified and confident in responding safely and professionally to these situations.

     Game wardens are required to collect and preserve any and all evidence of an attack and to analyze this evidence in order to prove or disprove that an attack occurred and which particular animal was responsible for the attack. This often means working closely with other investigators and officials such as wildlife biologists, local police agencies, medical professionals, and the coroner’s office to
determine cause of death (in the case of a fatality). Concluding these investigations in a professional and timely manner is just
as important to the agencies and communities they serve as for the families of the victims or survivors.

Investigating officers are taught to examine the entire area for evidence of the attack

     Much can be learned by professionals involved in the investigation of wildlife attacks on humans when they critique previous attacks and compare different agency’s procedures and techniques. Again, these are rare and dynamic situations and it is difficult for any one agency to train their officers adequately in this specialized field without looking at how other agencies have responded to similar

     On April 28, 2014, the fifth annual Wildlife-Human Attack Response Training Workshop (WHART) was hosted in Whitehorse, Yukon. The training was very comprehensive and attended by 144 delegates from throughout North America and as far away as Russia. Topics included the medical treatment of bearmauling victims, working with non-fatal attack survivors and witnesses (hearing a survivor’s perspective), disaster management, liability, the use of the incident command system to predator attack response incident command procedures, and dealing with critical incident stress for responders.

Some larger predators will bury their food cache.

Officers will measure the gap between the canine teeth of a predator.
These measurements will be compared to bilte marks on the victem to
identify the animal responsible.
     The professional expertise at the workshop was outstanding! Not only were there many experts from the wildlife behaviour and biology field but also many veteran game wardens who were members of Predator Attack Response Teams in their respective jurisdictions and who had investigated numerous attacks. Throughout the workshop, various case studies of fatal wildlife-human attacks involving polar bears, grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, wolves, and coyotes were presented by the lead investigators. Although these were tragic events, they provided an important learning opportunity for those who had never previously investigated
such an event. As with any training, there was also a practical component involving realistic scenarios. These were scripted and organized as an opportunity for officers to develop and improve their skills by responding as a member of a predator attack response team to a realistic wildlifehuman attack.

     All in all, the workshop was a huge success, thanks to the hard work and dedication of many individuals.

     The next WHART workshop is scheduled to be held in Arizona sometime in 2016. We highly recommend this training to any
wildlife management and law enforcement personnel who deal with wildlife human conflict issues.

Author: Aaron Koss-Young
Aaron is a member of
Yukon Conservation Officer Association.

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