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The senseless trophy killing of Takaya, the “lone wolf” made famous by his stay on Discovery Island, once again brings to the fore the full-spectrum persecution of Canis lupus in British Columbia.
“In May 2012, a lone wolf appeared in Victoria, British Columbia, a metropolitan area on the southern tip of Vancouver Island with a population of 365,000. After sightings in backyards over a few days, the wolf settled in the adjacent Chatham and Discovery Islands. This wolf traveled a minimum of ~40 km from the nearest known wolf distribution, and through at least ~20 km of suburbia before swimming 1.5 km to the islands. The island chain comprises only 1.9 sq km of terrestrial area.”
That is the description of the wolf, Takaya, in a September 2018 paper published in the journal Ecology by Chris Darimont, Raincoast Conservation Foundation science director and Raincoast Chair at the University of Victoria, UVic researcher Dylan Collins and photographer Cheryl Alexander. The paper described the “unique ecological and social-cultural context” of Takaya’s solitary existence and how he established his home within a small Salish Sea archipelago in Songhees First Nation territory.
In late January of 2020, Takaya left his solitary archipelago for southern Vancouver Island. While attempting to make his way through Victoria, he was tranquilized and relocated by the BC Conservation Officer Service. Approximately two months later, Takaya’s unique life would tragically come to an end at the hands of a hunter near Shawnigan Lake.
B.C.’s wolves are killed through a variety of means, most of which are gratuitous, inhumane and unethical. These include legal hunting and trapping, as well as government-sanctioned culling, the latter using such techniques as aerial gunning and neck snares.
From mountain caribou to marmots, wolves are the ultimate scapegoat, as shifting blame for endangered species decline from the destruction of habitat by logging, mining and energy development to the long-demonized wolf is far more convenient.
In B.C., the locus of wolf maltreatment in Canada, the province estimates that some 1,200 wolves are killed annually for recreational purposes. Chris Darimont, Raincoast Conservation Foundation science director and Raincoast Chair at the University of Victoria, surmises that staggering number could be higher given B.C.’s lax reporting requirements and lack of conservation enforcement capability.
Hundreds more wolves are dispatched by means of government-sanctioned predator control programs each year. The province is killing wolves now to ostensibly conserve the caribou herds that it was responsible for decimating through decades of conscious choices not to protect caribou habitat. There are no logical ecological or economic reasons to kill wolves. Moreover, there are clearly no tenable ethical reasons to induce such harm and suffering.
This pervasive and unnatural mortality, through trophy hunting and lethal control, is imposed on an unknown population. In fact, the hunting persecution is so extensive that likely no other provincial or state jurisdiction on the planet, other than Alaska, can be said to kill more wolves than B.C.
B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, the entity responsible for “wolf management,” admits that “much of the information the province’s wildlife managers obtain regarding wolf populations is anecdotal, with a reliance on public sightings and observations.”
B.C.’s lethal exploitation of wolves is not based on science, the province relies on anachronistic seat-of-the-pants management rooted in the anti-carnivore ideology embedded in the ironically named “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation".
In other words, B.C.’s lethal exploitation of wolves is not based on science. Rather, the province relies on anachronistic seat-of-the-pants management rooted in the anti-carnivore ideology embedded in the ironically named “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.”
In 2014, wildlife scientist Heather Bryan, along with colleagues from Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the University of Calgary and Bar-Ilan University, authored a seminal scientific paper, published in the British journal Functional Ecology, which suggests wolves that are heavily hunted or subjected to intensive lethal control experience significant social and physiological stress. The scientists used tufts of hair to measure hormone levels in wolves subject to different hunting pressures.
Although the long-term effects of chronically elevated stress and reproductive hormones are unknown, there are potential implications for wildlife health, welfare, long-term survival, and behaviour. The effects of stress are often subtle, but the ensuing harm can be acute, chronic, and permanent, sometimes spanning generations.
Both lethal control and trophy hunting of wolves is typically justified as a necessary management tool. Ignored in the widespread killing is the evidence that exploited wolf populations lead to smaller and unstable packs, smaller territories, and potentially more prey killed per capita by these inexperienced wolf packs. All of this can and does increase conflicts with humans, who see wolves as competitors for livestock as well as wild game.
British Columbians love the iconography of big wildlife, such as wolves and bears. Unfortunately, this fascination with animal symbolism too often fails to translate into policies that further the conservation and welfare of large carnivores. These animals face habitat destruction, mismanagement of prey species, and direct killing via trophy hunting and lethal control on an ongoing basis.
While the current B.C. government continues to deserve high praise for banning the grizzly hunt, it is on a troubling trajectory to escalate the torment and carnage previous governments have historically visited upon wolf populations across the province.
Wildlife management policy, borne within unaccountable ministry bureaucracies, that permits activity that is so misaligned with commonly held societal values requires immediate attention by our elected representatives, who are accountable to the public.
Takaya's death should not be in vain. Rather, it should be an inflection point that triggers the end of the recreational killing of wolves in British Columbia.
Chris Genovali is executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Paul C. Paquet is Raincoast’s senior scientist and a large carnivore expert.