To Kill a Wolf
An Ode to Staqeya
by Elke van Breemen
Coastal wolf photo
by ©Trevor Ribeyre
Staqeya (a.k.a. Takaya) the wolf, formerly the sole resident of Discovery Island, which lies in a small archipelago within traditional Songhees territory just off of Victoria BC, has been the talk of the town over the past few months. Many people who have followed his story of surviving the odds on a tiny island for over seven years were relieved when the lone wolf who fatefully crossed into urban Victoria late January was relocated back into the wild. Unfortunately, there was no safeguard for Staqeya after he left his rock. Once protected on Discovery Island, he became viewed as any other wolf, a member of an antagonized species that has borne the brunt of our environmental mistakes for centuries. Staqeya’s fame could not protect him. At the end of March, a hunter, not requiring any specific tag, shot and killed the venerated wolf only two months after his relocation to a forested area on Vancouver Island.
While the unique coastal wolf ecotype to which Staqeya belongs is not protected from trapping, trophy hunting or unsustainable forestry practices, it is safe to say that his interior cousins have it worse, where wolves continue to be the target, literally, for negligent caribou recovery programs in BC and Alberta that cater to industry rather than commit to conservation. More than 1000 wolves have already been killed in B.C. by government-contracted shooters since 2015, with hundreds more slated to be gunned down by helicopter in the coming years.
The BC government expanded its wolf kill program again this year, announcing plans to kill 90- 95 wolves in the Itcha-Ilgachutz caribou range of the Chilcotin this winter. This will effectively extirpate wolves from an area greater than 9000 km2. This is similar in size to Yellowstone National Park, which currently hosts about 100 wolves whose descendants were reintroduced from Canada in the 90’s in order to restore balance to an ecosystem that suffered in the absence of wolves. It makes one wonder what the ecological consequences of such extensive predator control will have in the Chilcotin and the other 12 management areas in which equally aggressive predator killing is currently being executed.
Sadly, killing wolves and other predators seems to be the only action government is willing to take to save caribou, when urgent protection of their critical habitat is legally required.
In order to ensure the long-term survival of both predator and prey species, as well as the myriad species and ecological processes to which both are bound, a holistic conservation approach that places habitat protection at its forefront must be made. While some argue that we don’t have time to repair degraded habitat, it does not give those in power the right to destroy the last standing old-growth forests while continuing open-endedly with the culling of wolves and other wildlife. We tend to place value on certain species – especially those we push to the brink of extinction, like caribou – and even on individuals, such as Staqeya the wolf, without being able to extend this concern to the ecosystems they are a part of. The tragedy of the endangered mountain caribou and its decades-long mismanagement is a portrayal of our misunderstanding and denial of how our own actions and attitudes affect the state of the natural world. If there is any hope, it is in knowing that it is not too late for change within ourselves. Let us not allow Staqeya’s struggle to be forgotten, rather, let it be a reminder of the need for greater compassion and acceptance of a remarkable animal that has for too long been maltreated by our dominant society.