Wolf drags dad from tent as he defends his family on Canada camping trip, officials say

A New Jersey man hailed as a “hero” by his family tangled with a wolf attacking their tent early Friday in a Banff National Park campground in Canada, The Regina Leader-Post reported.

“He had been camping with his wife and two children and around midnight sometime he heard noises around the campsite,” said Jon Stuart-Smith, The Regina Leader-Post reported.

Thinking the intruder might be a bear, the father began making noise inside the tent to try to scare it away, according to the publication.

“He poked the side of his tent and that’s when the wolf bit him through the tent,” said Stuart-Smith, a human-wildlife conflict specialist, The Regina Leader-Post reported.

Elisa Rispoli, writing about the incident on Facebook, described it as “like something out of a horror movie” as the wolf attacked her husband, Matt Rispoli.

“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,” Rispoli wrote. “We were screaming for help as he was fighting it and trying to save us, for what felt like an eternity.”

Rispoli wrote on Facebook that the fight lasted one to three minutes as she laid her body over their children. The wolf began dragging Matt Rispoli out of the tent as she tried to hold onto his legs.

In a neighboring campsite, Russ Fee heard the couple screaming for help and dashed over to help, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported. He spotted the wolf tugging at Matt Rispoli “like a dog yanking at a bone.”

“It was just so much larger than any dog I’ve ever seen,” Fee said, according to the CBC.

“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,” Fee said, the CBC reported.

The wolf released Matt Rispoli and turned on Fee, according to the CBC. Both men began screaming at the wolf and hurling “rocks at it to keep it at bay” as the family fled to a vehicle.

Parks Canada closed the Rampart Creek Campground in Banff National Park following the incident, but it reopened Monday, The Toronto Star reported.

Parks Canada spokesman Gregg Walker described the attack as “extremely rare, saying human-wolf encounters aren’t common anywhere in Canada,” The Calgary Herald reported.

Wildlife officials found the wolf about a mile from the campground and killed it, The Toronto Star reported. The wolf was “in poor condition” and likely near death.

“An individual wolf that’s on its own has a much lower chance of being able to catch prey, which means it’s going to have less ability to feed itself,” Stuart-Smith said, according to the publication. “Without that ability, it’s going to be looking for other food sources. An incident like this where it’s taking the opportunity to possibly consider humans as food is what we’re thinking is the reason for the attack.”

Matt Rispoli was taken to a hospital with “serious injuries to his hand and arm,” The Calgary Herald reported.

“It could have been so so much worse, and we are just feeling so thankful that we are all still sitting here as a complete family,” Elisa Rispoli wrote on Facebook. “Matt is our absolute hero (I mean, way more than he normally was) and we are forever grateful to Russ who came to our aid and likely saved Matt’s life.”

Banff National Park covers 2,564 square miles in the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary in the province of Alberta.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.