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We’ve all laid awake at night in our tents, listening to the rustle of leaves and snap of twigs just beyond the flimsy nylon walls, imagining what might lurk nearby. For Matt and Elisa Rispoli and their two young sons, that nightmare came true on a camping trip in Banff National Park earlier this month. The Rispolis, of Morris County, NJ, were sleeping when a lone wolf attacked them on August 9 in an unusual encounter that scientists and wildlife officials are still trying to explain.
Russ Fee was camping nearby with his wife in the Rampart Creek Campground, according to the Washington Post, when he awoke to screams. Fee, who is from Calgary, ran over to discover the Rispoli’s tent in shreds—and a large furry backside emerging from one end. The animal appeared to be tugging at something inside.
“It was like something out of a horror movie,” Elisa Rispoli wrote in a Facebook post the next day. “Matt literally threw his body in front of me and the boys, and fought the Wolf as it ripped apart our tent and his arms and hands. We were screaming for help as he was fighting it and trying to save us,” she wrote. According to the post, Elisa threw herself on top of the kids while Matt wrestled with the wolf. “I cannot and don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly describe the terror,” she wrote.
In an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener, fee described kicking the animal in the hip, which caused it to let go of Matt Rispoli’s arm. Rispoli, who was covered in blood, scrambled out, and the two men threw large rocks at the animal until it retreated enough for the rest of the family to flee to Fee’s minivan in the next campsite over.
Wolf attacks are extremely rare; according to a 2003 article from the International Wolf Center, there were no fatal wolf attacks reported in North America in the 20th century, and there have only been two verified since. In an interview with the Eyeopener, Jon Stuart-Smith, a wildlife specialist from Parks Canada, said that “this is the first time that anybody has actually been attacked and injured by a wolf in a National Park in Canada.”
The wolf that attacked the Rispoli family was euthanized by a wildlife officer from Parks Canada shortly after the attack. The Rampart Creek campground was briefly closed but has since reopened.
So what caused this wolf to attack? It’s still a mystery.
Stuart-Smith reported that the Rispolis had followed all animal safety protocol, and there was no food inside their tent at the time. “The animal was in poor condition and poor health. [It was] an older animal, it was quite emaciated,” he said, though the animal tested negative for rabies. He speculates that the animal was struggling to feed itself without the support of a pack and attacked out of desperation.
Matt Rispoli was taken to the Banff Mineral Springs Hospital for treatment and released later that day. Elisa Rispoli and the two children were not injured.