Officials warn residents to leave the wild animal alone


Juneau predator catches and releases pet pug
Officials warn residents to leave the wild animal alone

The Associated Press

Published: February 9, 2007
Last Modified: February 9, 2007 at 05:33 PM

JUNEAU — A lone, black wolf that Juneau residents have dubbed “Romeo” appears to have lost its fear of humans, prompting officials to set up signs reminding people to keep their distance from the wild animal.

The wolf has been spotted on several occasions attempting to “play” with dogs and people on and around frozen Mendenhall Lake, one of his haunts, the Juneau Empire reported.

Recent pictures circulating locally by e-mail show Romeo getting acquainted with a few local dogs, including a small, light-colored pug.

In one shot, he’s making off with the pug as if it were a rabbit. Subsequent photos show the pug squirming on the ice after he’s been released. The little dog suffered no apparent harm.

“In the last week, there have been several stories of the wolf picking up little dogs and several stories of people touching the wolf, which isn’t good,” said Neil Barten, wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Wild animals that lose their wariness around people are often shot, but officials want to avoid that option.

“We don’t want to get put in that position, so that is why we are really trying to get the word out that it is a wild animal,” Barten said.

They may try nonlethal tactics to keep the wolf at a safe distance from people, such as a gun and beanbags or rubber bullets, Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin said. They’ve also discussed ways to keep humans away from the wolf.

“We’ve discussed the possibility of citations, but we want to get people sensitive to the fact that interacting with the wolf is not a good thing to do,” Griffin said.

Reports of the wolf’s behavior, and especially the behavior of the human spectators, led officials to set up signs at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center reminding people to stay clear of the animal.

“History has proven that when people are that close to wolves … that’s when problems happen, and nobody wants problems to happen,” Barten said.

Because the wolf has interacted with dogs so frequently and freely, officials also worry that it might contract diseases such as rabies or mange, at which point it would have to be killed.

People have a great sense of community pride regarding the wolf, and that should continue as long as people act responsibly around it, Griffin said.

“There’s the danger of loving this wolf to death,” he said. “We have to remember that it is a wild animal. For it to continue to survive, it has to remain a wild animal.”

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