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Gus Yaki (1932-2020)

Gus Yaki photo by Dan Arndt-1

Gus Yaki, the renowned Calgary birder and naturalist, passed away in August 2020.

Gus was an avid birder as a young man and he continued his self-education as a naturalist. In 1951 he began serving with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He was trained in Regina, and then the RCMP sent him to Toronto, where he joined the Toronto Field Naturalists. Before long he was stationed on the Six Nations Reserve in Ohswekan, Ontario.

In the early 1960’s he lived in Lindsay, Ontario, where he was President of the local Nature Club for two years. In 1966, he was one of the founding members and first president of the Niagara Falls Nature Club, which was dedicated to speaking up on environmental issues and to educating people about the nature around them. Within a year of its founding the Niagara Falls Nature Club had over 400 members, which led to Gus getting a position on the board of directors of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON). He was on the board when they voted to create a land conservation organization, which became the Nature Conservancy of Canada. He was involved in the establishment of the Bruce Trail, a 900-km hiking trail that runs along the Niagara escarpment in Ontario. It is the oldest and longest marked hiking trail in Canada.

He launched his own eco-tour company Nature Travel Service (NTS) offering guided trips to destinations all over the world, with Gus leading most of the trips himself as a bird and nature guide. He ran this business for twenty years, during which time he personally travelled to seventy-six political entities and all seven continents. Gus never kept a bird life list, but he estimated that he had seen about half of all the bird species in the world, or about 5,000 species. On a special trip on its 30th anniversary, among the participants was the writer Lyn Hancock, who wrote a book about it called Looking For The Wild. The acclaimed wildlife artist Robert Bateman and Roger Tory Peterson himself joined the group for the Alaskan portion of the tour.

After retiring, he continued volunteering his time as a naturalist. In 2005 he started birding classes with the Friends of Fish Creek which attract hundreds of participants. One of the most remarkable projects Gus undertook in recent years was his walk  at age 84 across Southern Alberta from Saskatchewan to Waterton Park in 2017, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in support of bird study and habitat conservation. In 2019, he was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers by the Governor General of Canada, and was recognized as one of Calgary’s “Top 7 over 70”. (Calgary Herald)

Gus was the face of Calgary birding for the past 27 years, and his passion for nature and conservation were an inspiration to thousands of Calgarians. He spent countless hours leading birding and botany field trips and giving presentations, and he helped to raise many thousands of dollars for conservation organizations. He was an important participant in the City Nature Challenge using iNaturalist in 2019.

Gus received many awards and accolades over the years for his conservation efforts. He received seven honours in late 2019 alone, including being named one of Calgary’s “Top 7 Over 70” years old and being awarded the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers. Gus’s knowledge of natural history been distributed to thousands of people over the years, and will be passed on to future generations.                                                          From: Birds Calgary

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