DNA test confirms identity of wolf that bit Solway teen
BEMIDJI — A wolf killed at a Lake Winnibigoshish campground after an attack on a teenager was in fact the animal that bit the 16-year-old, officials said Thursday. It was Minnesota’s first documented wolf attack on a human that resulted in significant injuries.
Noah Graham, 16, of Solway, Minn., was camping with friends at the West Winnie Campground when he was attacked and bitten by a wolf in the early hours of Aug. 24. The wolf bit down on Graham’s head, and he had to reach behind and pry the animal’s jaws from his head. Graham suffered a 11-centimeter wide gash on his scalp that required 17 staples to close.
A wolf was trapped and killed Aug. 26 at the campground, but a necropsy and DNA testing was needed to confirm if it was the animal that bit Graham. The campground was closed for about a week.
DNA testing done by forensic scientists at a University of California-Davis lab showed identical matches from the wolf’s DNA profile and the profile of samples from a comforter used when the teen was transported for treatment, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said in a release.
This week, the DNR received the final results of the necropsy, which was conducted by the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The necropsy listed a number of abnormal conditions that may have contributed to the wolf approaching and biting a human, which is not normal wolf behavior, the DNR said.
The wolf, estimated to be 1½ years old and weighing about 75 lbs, suffered from a severe facial deformity and dental abnormalities, according to Anibal G. Armien, the pathologist and veterinarian at the University of Minnesota who performed the necropsy.
The wolf also was suffering from brain damage, most likely caused by an infection, Armien said.
The wolf tested negative for rabies, as did Graham, who was tested immediately after the attack.
Armien said, based on the wolf’s deformities, it is most likely the animal experienced a traumatic injury as a pup and the injuries developed into abnormalities, which caused the brain damage.
Those injuries, and the brain damage, also likely explains why the wolf was at the campground looking for food, said Dan Stark, the DNR’s large carnivore specialist. It’s rare for a wolf to scavenge in an area with a lot of human activity, Stark said.
The wolf only had fish spines and scales in its stomach, and Stark said he was surprised it had survived that long based on its condition.
“We can’t know with certainty why this wolf approached and bit the teen,” Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program supervisor for the DNR, said in a press release. “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.”