By Laura Boast  

Earlier this year, a lone wolf — whose story of survival on isolated islands off the coast of Victoria captured the world’s attention — returned to Vancouver Island after more than seven years.

WATCH NOW: Takaya: Lone Wolf

Sadly, that wolf, known as Takaya, has been shot and killed just two months after being returned to his former territory north of Victoria.

The news stunned conservationist and wildlife photographer Cheryl Alexander, whose special bond with the remarkable animal was captured in Takaya: Lone Wolf on The Nature of Things. During his time on the islands, she had watched him develop into an alpha predator who could kill and skin seals, steal goose eggs and dig for water.

“It’s hard to describe my feelings, which are fluctuating between absolute rage that it happened and devastating sorrow that his life ended like this … and a kind of incredulity,” Alexander said in an interview from her Victoria home.

According to the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (COS), a hunter killed Takaya on March 24 near Shawnigan Lake on southern Vancouver Island. The wolf had only arrived on Vancouver Island in late January after leaving the Discovery and Chatham Islands.

Alexander still struggles to understand why Takaya left his island domain, where he was relatively safe and had no competition for food.

“I’ve known Takaya’s been highly at risk since he was relocated,” Alexander said. “I did hear rumours that people were intending to trophy-hunt him.”

Takaya with city

Takaya’s return to Vancouver Island

Alexander and B.C. conservation officer Mark Kissinger were on hand when police officers located Takaya in downtown Victoria earlier this year. The wolf had been running through the city for two days, and had wedged himself between a shed and a backyard fence.

“We just wanted to make as little stress for Takaya as possible,” said Kissinger. He and his team tranquilized the wolf and ensured Takaya got a health assessment before releasing him in a remote area north of the city. Other than being fatigued, Kissinger said, the wolf was healthy and well fed.

The B.C. COS chose a region similar to Takaya’s island home — a coastal habitat rich with marine life, deer, elk and geese. It was also clear of fellow wolves.

“An older lone wolf in another pack’s area would not do well,” Kissinger said.

Soon after Takaya’s relocation, Alexander got some positive reports from people who had seen him in the area. She also got a glimpse of him in early March after she set up a trail camera one night in his new territory. The next morning, Takaya showed up on the footage. Alexander is convinced he picked up her scent.

“He looked great when I saw him on the trail cam,” she said. “A little bit later, in mid-March, I was given photographs and video of him in a completely different place, and he looked really good. He was doing fine.”

Risks of relocation

Despite the wolf appearing to thrive in his new home, both Alexander and Kissinger knew Takaya faced risks. Kissinger and his team had released the wolf in an area free of trap lines, but that didn’t eliminate the threat of hunters tracking him down. Wolf hunting is legal on Vancouver Island.

Alexander was also concerned that Takaya’s comfort with other canines and occasional human contact might put him at risk. He was timid, but not frightened.

In past encounters with people and their dogs, Alexander said, “He was not aggressive in any way, but the people were not aggressive, either.”

She thinks Takaya may have seen the hunter out with his dogs and believed he would be safe. He was not.

“He was in a safer place on the islands,” Alexander said.

The B.C. COS maintains the decision to release Takaya on Vancouver Island was made with the welfare of the animal in mind. “The wolf was not taken back to Discovery Island as it left for a reason,” its official statement reads.

Kissinger and Alexander agree that Takaya likely didn’t come ashore in search of food. As the apex predator on the islands, he had no competition for prey.

The B.C. COS has observed Takaya swimming to Vancouver Island two or three times in the past six years, Kissinger noted, so he wonders if the wolf may have been looking for a mate. Alexander, on the other hand, thinks he may have been accidentally swept ashore while swimming between islands during high tide.

MORE:
Victoria photographer spends years documenting the life of a lone wolf off Vancouver Island

Takaya’s legacy

No one knows for sure why Takaya ended up back on Vancouver Island. But as Alexander grieves his loss, she is grateful for the time she had following Takaya on the islands, and for the way his life story — told in Takaya: Lone Wolf and through her own photography — has inspired people.

She’s been getting messages of condolences and media requests from across North America, the U.K., France and Germany.

“His death, being killed the way he was, maybe it’s dramatic enough to trigger people to realize it’s not OK to kill animals like this anymore,” she said. “I have to think his legacy is going to cause us to really think [about] why we allow hunters, if they have a hunting licence, to just shoot a wolf.”

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