Who killed Takaya the wolf?
The simple answer is the hunter who legally shot the animal—a celebrity to wildlife lovers around the world—during a chance encounter on a Vancouver Island logging road.
The fuller explanation is nuanced and says more about society’s conflicted views of predators than a fatal single bullet fired from a hunter’s rifle.
Takaya is thought to have lived a celibate existence for almost eight years on Discovery and Chatham islands, the traditional territory of the Songhees Nation. The islands rest in the Salish Sea; only a thin barrier of water separated Takaya from the tourist shops and manicured flower beds of Victoria.
Takaya began to assume celebrity status in 2012 when he was fully grown and two or three years old. He is estimated to have weighed 36 to 40 kilograms—about the size of a large German Shepherd.
Boaters, kayakers and photographers occasionally spotted this wild predator in his archipelago home.
“It was magic, such a beautiful animal,” recalls Mark Malleson, a boat skipper with Prince of Whales, a Victoria marine eco-tourism company.
Wolves are pack animals, and it was highly unusual for Takaya to be living a solo existence for so long. No one knew where he came from, whether he had been exiled by his pack or whether he had left on his own in hopes of starting a family.
Sometimes Takaya would reveal himself on a stretch of shoreline by lounging in the open. He came to accept the gawking of visitors aboard their boats. “Everyone would sit there, take a few minutes and watch,” Malleson says.
Just two months after Takaya’s arrival, in a local news segment about the wolf, a park ranger warned viewers that repetitive human contact could lead to the wolf becoming habituated to their presence. And at the end of the segment, the reporter passed along a conservation officers’ message that people should keep their distance from the wolf.
ONE PERSON WHO DEDICATED a lot of time to tracking Takaya’s movements was Victoria conservation photographer Cheryl Alexander. She was a regular visitor to Discovery Island for decades before first spotting the wolf in May 2014. “He’d just swum across from Chatham to Discovery and was coming out of the water onto a little beach,” she says. “Then he started to howl, and it was unbelievable.” Alexander decided to call him Takaya, which means “respectful one” in Japanese. But also, she chose the name because it closely mirrors stqéy , the Songhees word for wolf.
Alexander and her husband, David Green, a solar LED entrepreneur, own 3.4 hectares on Discovery Island. They’re working to reduce invasive plants and allow research, including on migratory birds and Steller’s sea lions, from the property. The rest of the island includes a 61-hectare provincial park, Songhees reserve lands and a decommissioned federal lighthouse.
In 2019, David Suzuki’s show, The Nature of Things, featured Alexander’s documentary, Takaya: Lone Wolf. She narrated the film and served as cinematographer, creative consultant and co-executive producer. “I’ve gained this wolf’s trust and documented his life, shooting over 1,000 hours of footage,” she commented on camera.
To some, Takaya seemed to have learned to view humans as harmless. In September 2019, Songhees land enforcement officer Ian Cesarec, who patrols the Chatham Islands, told a local reporter that Takaya came within six metres of him, sat down and scratched his ear. “He’s a lot like a dog,” he said.
Had Takaya maintained his exiled lifestyle, it might not have mattered. But for reasons unknown, he braved cold water and swirling tidal currents to return to Vancouver Island in the winter of 2020.
HIS HOWLS UNANSWERED, did Takaya finally go in search of a mate? After all, wolves reach sexual maturity at about two years of age.
“It was breeding season, and, unlike dogs, wolves breed only once per year,” says Chris Darimont, a professor at the University of Victoria and a science director for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
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