By BRIAN MARSCHHAUSER
SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. – Atka, a 16-year-old Arctic wolf who served as an ambassador for the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, died Saturday, Sept. 22, in his sleep.
As an ambassador wolf, the popular Atka greeted and howled along with thousands of visitors to the Conservation Center over the years. He also traveled to libraries, classrooms, auditoriums and to government meetings, helping the Conservation Center fulfill its mission to “teach people about wolves, their relationship to the environment and the human role in protecting their future.” He retired from his ambassadorship in 2016.
“We are so lucky for all the moments we were able to share with him and for being able to share his magnificent presence and soul with so many others,” the center wrote on Facebook, where more than 2,300 people wrote comments mourning his death.
Atka’s passing was described as “painless and peaceful with his family surrounding him.” At 16, he was the oldest ambassador wolf at the Conservation Center.
“While Atka leaves a hole in our lives so big that words can’t describe it, his impact on wolf conservation persists and cannot be overstated,” the center wrote.
Rebecca Bose, a curator with the Conservation Center, said Arctic wolves typically live between 6-8 years in the wild. In captivity, that is usually doubled.
“It’s still difficult because we wanted him to live forever,” Bose said.
Atka was born May 17, 2002. Just eight days later, he arrived at the Conservation Center from Minnesota. According to the Conservation Center, Atka is an Inuit name meaning “guardian spirit.”
“He instilled compassion, understanding and awareness to the hundreds of thousands of people he met over his storied career,” the center wrote. “We will be better and do better because Atka lived. He will empower us to continue the fight to safeguard the wild legacy he leaves behind.”
The 90-pound wolf was described by the center as a “superstar” who loved his fans. Though he retired two years ago, an email address was created for Atka in 2017 so his fans could continue to communicate with him. Hundreds of emails came in following his death, with many saying Atka provided personal and professional inspiration. Some said they became wildlife biologists working with wolves specifically because of Atka.
“He had a global following,” Bose said.
The Conservation Center has scheduled a memorial open house to celebrate Atka’s life on from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, at the Wolf Conservation Center, 7 Buck Run, South Salem.