Russ Fee thought the panicked voices rising from the campsite next to his were from parents whose child had gone missing — until he heard both a man and a woman desperately scream, “Help!”
Panicked himself, Fee fumbled with the zipper on his tent, finally got the mesh door open and rushed over with a lantern in hand.
At the neighbouring campsite, the Calgary man saw a wolf trying to drag something from a destroyed tent, like a dog yanking at a bone.
“It was just so much larger than any dog I’ve ever seen,” Fee told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday.
Inside the tent was a family of four visiting Banff, Alta., from New Jersey — two young boys and their mom and dad. The father’s arm was clamped in the animal’s jaws as he tried to fend off the wolf.
Fee made a snap decision on how to help.
“I had a good run going at the time … and it was just so quick and the screams were so intense, that I knew it was obviously a terrible situation, so I just kind of kept running at it and I just kicked it sort of in the back hip area.”
An opponent ‘out of my weight class’
Fee doesn’t think his kick injured the wolf, but it was enough to startle it.
The animal let go of its would-be prey — the father, Matt Rispoli — but didn’t run away.
Fee started wondering if he had made a big mistake.
“I felt like I had kind of punched someone that was way out of my weight class,” he said.
“I immediately regretted kicking it, but as soon as it popped out of the tent, Matt came flying out. His whole half side was just covered in blood, but he was pretty amped up too, so we both just started screaming at it.”
Fee says the animal backed off a bit, but they had to throw rocks at it to keep it at bay.
Eventually, Fee and the American family fled to Fee’s campsite and joined his wife, taking shelter in their vehicle.
The view from inside the tent
Elisa Rispoli, Matt’s wife, posted the story from her point of view from inside the tent on Facebook.
She says her husband threw himself between the snarling wolf and his family.
“I laid my body on top of the kids and Matt pinned the wolf to the ground and held open its jaw with his hands, and the wolf started to drag Matt away, while I was pulling on his legs trying to get him back,” wrote Elisa.
“I cannot and don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly describe the terror.”
She wrote that Matt suffered puncture wounds and cuts on his arms and hands, but that he’s OK.
She said Fee was a “guardian angel.”
Parks Canada tracked the wolf believed to be responsible for the attack to a location about one kilometre south of the campground and killed it.
On Tuesday, the agency said DNA tests confirmed the wolf that was killed was responsible for the attack.
“Veterinary tests have confirmed that the wolf was in poor condition and likely nearing the end of its natural life span,” read Tuesday’s release.
“The wolf’s condition was likely a contributing factor for its unusual behaviour and this remains a very rare incident.”
Jon Stuart-Smith, a wildlife management specialist with Parks Canada, said this is the first incident of its kind within a national park.
“There have been two other incidents in provincial parks, one in B.C. and one in Ontario,” he said. “These three incidents are the only ones where people have actually been injured [in protected areas like provincial parks and national parks].”
Smith said there have been other incidents outside of parks where people have been injured in wolf attacks.
Previously, the federal agency said there were “no significant wildlife attractants or food found inside or in the immediate vicinity of the tent.”
Rampart Creek Campground, where the attack took place, has since reopened.
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener