Lived for eight years almost within sight of British Columbia provincial parliament
VICTORIA, B.C., Canada––Takaya, 10, the “sea wolf” star of the 2019 CBC Nature of Things documentary “Takaya: Lone Wolf,” was on March 24, 2020 shot by a hunter near Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia, possibly after being chased and/or mauled by the hunter’s dogs.
British Columbia wildlife officials did not release either the details of the shooting or the identity of the hunter.
Last seen and photographed alive two days earlier near Port Renfrew, 30 miles west of Shawnigan Lake, Takaya was apparently trying to make his way back to his longtime home on Discovery Island in the Haro Strait, and had about 20 miles yet to travel.
Takaya knew the way
The final stage of Takaya’s journey would have involved crossing the dense coastal suburbs between Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, and then swimming the several miles to Discovery Island, about five miles southwest of San Juan Island, Washington.
Takaya knew the way. “In 2012,” narrated Leyland Cecco of The Guardian, “the young wolf traversed nearly 25 miles of urban sprawl, taking shelter in back yards and parks until he reached the southeast tip of Vancouver Island. From there, the wolf swam toward a scattering of tiny islands within sight of Victoria.
“In the eight years that followed,” Cecco continued, “the wolf – named Takaya (the Lekwungen word for wolf) by the Songhees, a local First Nation whose territory encompasses the islands – quickly became a legendary figure.”
Survived in small, isolated habitat
Unlike inland wolves, who hunt mainly deer, elk, and caribou, Tayaka learned to hunt salmon, shellfish, seals, mink, otter, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits.
Takaya was not unique in becoming a semi-aquatic predator, adept at fishing, nor was he unique in making his home among the many British Columbia offshore islands.
“Fifty years ago,” Cecco summarized, “there were few coastal wolves in the region, victims of overhunting and habitat degradation. Today an estimated 250 of them roam the 12,000 square miles of Vancouver Island.”
Few wolves, however, have ventured as far south as Victoria. Discovery Island, moreover, is just a tenth the size of the smallest known habitat for any wild wolf pack.
Takaya, however, arrived alone.
“With no permanent streams on the island, he had to use his ingenuity to survive,” Cecco wrote. “Drizzly winters created temporary wetlands, but summers in the region are dry.”
Therefore Takaya learned to dig his own wells.
“He really pushed the envelope of what’s possible ecologically, both in terms of how he made his living, and the small amount of space that he actually required to do so,” said Chris Darimont, a Raincoast Conservation Foundation and University of Victoria biologist.
Worried that Takaya might conflict with visitors to Discovery Island, many of whom boated or kayaked out specifically to try to see him, British Columbia game wardens tried to trap him in the summer of 2012 and winter of 2013.
Takaya, however, never took the bait.
“Plans to capture Takaya put the province at odds with the Songhees First Nations,” recounted Cecco. “Resistance to capturing the wolf also unearthed longstanding grievances over control of the islands. Known as Ti’ches in Lekwungen, the archipelago has long been a source of natural medicines found in the woods, and fish in the surrounding waters,” as well as the location of clandestine indigenous worship in the 19th century, when the colonial government tried to extinguish the Songhee religion and culture.
“Today the Songhees own all of the [nearby] Chatham Islands and share a portion of Discovery Island with the province of British Columbia,” Cecco wrote. “But even the name of the area – the Oak Bay Islands Ecological Reserve – remains a vestige of colonialism.”
Howls heard from Victoria
Visitors who illegally brought two dogs to Discovery Island in 2016 panicked and fled to the roof of an abandoned lighthouse building upon seeing Takaya among the dogs. A call to the Canadian Coast Guard brought armed wardens as well, but Takaya escaped being shot on that occasion.
“His lonely howls could often be heard from Victoria during calm weather,” Cecco said. “As Takaya aged, outliving most wild wolves, he did so alone.”
No wolf had ever been recorded living alone for so long, observed Darimont.
A lone female may have responded, having been seen nearby on the mainland shore in February 2019, but there is no evidence that she and Takaya ever actually met.
Darted near Parliament, dumped in the boonies
A year later, on January 25, 2020, Takaya left Discovery Island, turning up in Beacon Hill Park, four miles west in downtown Victoria, just a block from the British Columbia provincial parliament building.
Cornered in a residential yard, after a 48-hour chase by police and wildlife officers, Takaya was tranquilized, moved 100 miles inland, to the interior of Vancouver Island, and released on a remote gravel logging road.
A trail camera confirmed Takaya’s presence near Port Renfrew about a month later. He was last photographed there on March 22, 2020, two days before his death.
British Columbia’s Cecil the Lion
Wrote Darimont, fellow wildlife biologist Paul Paquet, and Raincoast Conservation Foundation executive director Chris Genovalli in a joint remembrance for the Toronto Globe & Mail, “Without the crushing emotional burden of a pandemic, Takaya the grey wolf would surely and immediately emerge as British Columbia’s Cecil the Lion. His senseless killing by a hunter could – and should – leave a significant and enduring mark on society and provincial wildlife management.
“To get there, however, we need to understand why anyone would want to kill Takaya, or any wolf for that matter. Such knowledge can chart a future towards change.”
“Although Takaya’s story is special to us,” Darimont, Paquet, and Genovalli continued, “his life is not any more meaningful or valuable than that of more than 1,000 other wolves that meet a similar fate each year in British Columbia. While no one but the shooter will reliably know the circumstances in which Takaya was shot, most wolves are not killed in defense of life, livestock or property,” but simply in pursuit of a trophy, or as part of a variety of political strategies that blame wild predators for human damage to “game” populations and habitat.
Wolves blamed for loss of caribou
In British Columbia, especially on Vancouver Island, wolves are officially blamed for loss of caribou.
Nearly 50 years ago, recalled compassionate conservation advocate Gosia Bryja, Ph.D., for the online periodical Medium, “Biologist Michael Bloomfield showed that widespread destruction of habitat by logging and other resource development activities threatened caribou survival. These warnings were never listened to. The B.C. government has allowed the destruction of the habitat to continue. The caribou population dwindled from 40,000 in the early 1900s to approximately 15,000 today, scattered among 54 herds. Thirty of those herds are at risk of extinction and 14 have fewer than 25 individuals.”
Even so, Bryja wrote, “industrial encroachment fragments caribou habitat,” which “not only ensures the eventual disappearance of the caribou, but sentences to death wolves, cougars, and many other species that depend on the same habitat.”
“War on wolves”
“In 2014, the British Columbia government,” in the name of saving caribou, “authorized war on wolves,” Bryja continued. “Since over 700 wolves have been killed, trapped, hunted, poisoned to death, [and] gunned down from helicopters,” using radio-collared “Judas wolves” to find whole packs, who then are exterminated.
“But this not where the war against the wolf ends,” Bryja added. “The stated number does not include ‘wolf whacking’ contests that take place in the interior of B.C.,” on the mainland.
“Now the government argues that ‘landscape scale habitat management is needed to support self-sustaining caribou populations,’ Bryja finished. “It thus proposes a predator hunt that would — in the name of reversing caribou population declines — erase more than 80% of the wolf population in parts of central British Columbia. To call this wildlife management approach fallacious and unethical is to be greatly euphemistic.”
Meanwhile, pointed out the editors of Pacific Wild in May 2019, “the government-owned B.C. Timber Sales has 11 cut blocks set aside for current and future logging within the Central Selkirk herd range, home to the last 25 members of that herd. In the last year alone we have seen the approval of 400 new logging cut-blocks in endangered caribou critical habitat. The irony of scapegoating other species while destroying habitat and food supply while increasing predator access, is not lost on us. The government is choosing extermination of wolves and other species over necessary protections of critical caribou habitat.”