A Violent Wildlife Mystery in Saskatchewan

Geological engineering student Kenton Joel Carnegie was killed in a violent attack by a predatory animal in a remote part of northern Saskatchewan, Canada. While at first glance the culprits for the killing appear obvious, the official coroner’s report failed to establish a definitive answer as to what had killed him.

Victim Kenton Carnegie. Photo: Kenton Joel Carnegie Memorial Website

While studying at the University of Waterloo, 22-year old Carnegie travelled to Points North Landing, a remote mining exploration camp, to carry out airborne surveying work. Primarily a service centre for nearby uranium mines, sightings of both black bears and timber wolves around the camp had become commonplace. The animals were frequently feeding on rubbish generated by the camp. Ten months before Carnegie’s arrival a 55-year old uranium miner had been attacked by a wolf, being saved only by the fortunate arrival of a bus full of colleagues who drove the animal off. The animal responsible was tracked and shot, testing negative for rabies.

Late afternoon on November 8th 2005, Carnegie requested permission to leave the camp alone to examine the geology of nearby Lake Wollaston. Despite heavy snowfall on the ground and concerns regarding his safety, he was ultimately granted permission. He set out, alone, at around 5:30pm, indicating he would return by 7pm.

When Carnegie failed to return as agreed, camp owner Mark Eikel set out to look for him, accompanied by geophysicist Chris Van Galder and bush pilot Todd Svarckopf. After they discovered wolf tracks along the shore of the lake they returned to camp to retrieve a rifle before resuming the search. Kenton Carnegie’s body was found shortly after, surrounded by wolf prints.

The site where Carnegie’s body was found. Photo: RCMP

Two pairs of eyes were seen reflecting torchlight from the darkness nearby, and searchers heard a wolf pack howling in the area. An initial investigation by the province’s coroner established a hypothetical reconstruction of the events leading to his death, based primarily on prints found in the snow.

Shortly after Carnegie left the camp, his tracks were picked up by a pair of wolves that began to stalk him. Trackers established that Carnegie had increased his speed, likely as a result of spotting the wolves following him.

Two more wolves closed in on the student, attacking him five separate times before he was dragged down and killed. Disturbed snow at the site of each attack indicated that Carnegie had fought off his attackers multiple times before being overwhelmed. His death marked the first modern, recorded case of a person being killed by wild wolves in North America.

Further investigations, however, cast doubts on the accepted theory that wolves were the culprit, despite the amount of evidence that seemed to indicate their responsibility. Bringing in noted carnivore biologist Paul Paquet, the investigation established only that Carnegie had been attacked and killed by a predatory animal, either by northern timber wolves or a black bear. However, it failed to establish a specific culprit, indicating that evidence for a wolf attack was largely circumstantial, and that some aspects of the incident more closely resembled a bear attack. Further evidence was confounded by search and recovery efforts.

Investigators and subsequent researchers continue to draw a blank on which species was ultimately responsible. Proponents of a bear attack point out that the body was dragged some distance, a behaviour common in bears but not wolves. A bite mark on Carnegie’s calf was described as indistinguishable from that of a black bear, although other researchers considered it reminiscent of the hamstringing bites used by wolves to hobble large prey.

An American Black Bear, one of the two species considered suspects in the killing. Photo: Diginatur

Other naturalists argue that there is little real evidence for a bear attack, especially as the incident took place in mid-November, when bears would typically be hibernating. Bears had not been seen in the vicinity of the camp for over a month before the attack took place. Tracks showing that Carnegie had repeatedly struggled free from his attacker and continued to flee also suggested wolves rather than a bear, which would have been more likely to effectively pin him down.

A naturalist employed by Carnegie’s family to investigate his death reviewed over 80 accounts of wolves approaching or attacking people in North America, coming to the conclusion that wolves were responsible for the attack on Kenton Carnegie.

Carnegie’s family criticised the investigation for failing to address policy issues at the camp that had resulted in a large population of wolves in the area, sustained by food scavenged from camp rubbish. An electric fence was built around Points North Landing’s primary landfill site to discourage further scavenging.

On August 29th 2016, over a decade after the attack on Carnegie, a 26-year old mine worker was attacked by a wolf at Cigar Lake mine, close to Points North Landing. He survived after a security guard was able to drive off the wolf and provided first aid, before he was airlifted to hospital in Saskatoon. Authorities subsequently ordered wolves in the vicinity to be hunted and shot, as well as improved food disposal procedures and training for staff on the danger posed by wolves.

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