The Amazing Story Of The Elephant Whisperer Lawrence Anthony.

When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of 7 ‘rogue’ and ‘trouble-making’ Elephants on his reserve at Thula Thula in 1999, his common sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd’s last chance of survival – notorious escape artists, they would all be killed if Lawrence wouldn’t take them. He agreed, but before arrangements for the move could be completed the animals broke out again and the matriarchand her baby were shot. The remaining Elephants were traumatised and very angry. As soon as they arrived at Thula Thula they started planning their escape.

As Lawrence battled to create a bond with the Elephants and save them from execution, he came to realise that they had a lot to teach him about love, loyalty and freedom. Set against the background of life on the reserve, with unforgettable characters and exotic wildlife, he wrote The Elephant Whisperer, a book that appealed to animal lovers worldwide.The original herd of 7 Elephants has now increased to 29 Elephants, the maximum sustainable capacity of Thula Thula.

In March 2012, Lawrence Anthony passed away. His family spoke of a solemn procession of elephants that defies human explanation.

For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of Lawrence Anthony. The formerly violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot a few years ago as pests, were rescued and rehabilitated by Lawrence.

They stood around the house in an apparent vigil for two days, and then dispersed.

“They had not visited the house for a year and a half and it must have taken them about 12 hours to make the journey,” Lawrence’s son Dylan said. “The first herd arrived on Sunday and the second herd, a day later. They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.”

But how did the elephants know Lawrence had died?

“A good man died suddenly,” says Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D., “and from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved human friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funereal’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at the deceased man’s home.”

“If there ever were a time, when we can truly sense the wondrous interconnectedness of all beings, it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula Thula. A man’s heart’s stops, and hundreds of elephants’ hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so-abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now, they came to pay loving homage to their friend.”

Elephants Travel 12 Hours To Attend A Vigil For The Man Who Rescued Them

Thanks to the local community, Thula Thula has the opportunity to add a further 3500 hectares of land to increase their habitat. This solution requires 35 km of electric fencing as well as roads, increased security, guard training, security equipment and vehicles, conservation, land management and the list just go on, to keep the wildlife safe. Community projects such as this, not only support the wildlife but also improve local employment and education.

Goodbye Iman, Malaysia’s Last Sumatran Rhino.

With the death of Iman, Malaysia has lost its last Sumatran Rhinoceros today.

She had been battling an illness prior to her death.

According to the Sabah Wildlife Department, Iman died at 5.35pm of natural causes, categorised as shock.

Iman, Malaysia’s Last Sumatran Rhino Has died.

“Iman’s death came sooner than we had expected. “But we knew that she was starting to suffer significant pain from the growing pressure of the tumours into the bladder,” said Augustine Tuuga, director of Sabah Wildlife Department in a statement.

The statement added that veterinarian at Borneo Rhino Sanctuary Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin, had earlier today suggested to start using morphine tomorrow, as other painkillers were becoming insufficient.

The Sabah Wildlife Department had hoped that it would still be possible to obtain some egg cells from Iman for the proposed Malaysia-Indonesia collaboration on this species.

But the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding is still pending.

It was reported that State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew had said the state government is hoping to expedite the legality process with Indonesia to fertilise Iman’s egg with the republic’s male Rhino and surrogate female Rhino.

“I would like to inform our counterparts in Indonesia that I am keen to pursue the MoU. Iman’s death is a tragedy, but this is one event in a bigger picture.

“There are still ways in which our twin countries can usefully collaborate based on our different experience over the past decade.

“For Sabah that includes management of female Sumatran Rhinos with reproductive pathology, safe harvesting of gametes from living Rhinos, and cell culture. Iman and Tam both live on as cell cultures in Malaysia,” said Liew.

Despite knowing that Iman’s death was imminent, Liew said she was still very saddened by this news.

“Iman was given the very best care and attention ever since her capture in March 2014 right up to the moment she passed.

“No one could have done more. She was actually quite close to death when sudden massive blood loss from the uterine tumours occurred on several occasions over the past few years,” she added.

In addition, Liew said the team at Tabin Wildlife Reserve provided round-the-clock intensive support and successfully brought her back to good health and egg cell production on several occasions.

On Wednesday, the 25-year-old Iman was reported as deteriorating from non-malignant tumours.

The tumour has been with her since her capture and had spread to her urinary bladder.

R.I.P. IMAN

Chained, Beaten, Whipped And Exploited Like Slaves: The Hidden Horrors Meted Out To India’s Temple Elephants!

Originally published in The Independent.

They are the country’s icon – but behind the dazzle of religious festivals, these giants of the wild are painfully abused in Kerala.

When Audrey Gaffney first read about Raju, an Elephant kept in chains with spikes embedded in his ankles, she couldn’t stop the tears pouring down her face. “In fact, I cried again and again: I found over the next few days I just couldn’t get this story out of my head, I couldn’t stop thinking about Raju,” she recalls.

“I couldn’t believe the cruelty of my race.”

The young Elephant had been snatched from his family, she explains – his mother either would have been killed or spent weeks searching and crying for him – and he was beaten into submission. Raju then spent the next 50 years forced by his handler to beg in the street, starved, frightened and suffering infected wounds to his flesh. By the time of his rescue, he had resorted to eating plastic and paper.

Going on to discover that Raju was just one of thousands of Elephants treated this way in India, Ms Gaffney, a single mother from Liverpool, was spurred into becoming an activist for the first time. In the four years since, she says, her life has changed beyond recognition as she dropped her wariness of social media and teamed up with other volunteers working to raise awareness of the horrors to which the temple Elephants of India are subjected.

Taken from their families in the wild, shackled, beaten, whipped and exploited like slaves, these Elephants – ironically India’s icons – are painted and dressed in colourful decorations, to be paraded in regular festivals and processions organised by religious temples.

They are the world’s forgotten Elephant victims of mankind. While the world has focused on the threat of extinction to Africa’s Elephants caused by the ivory poaching crisis and the cruelty of tourist Elephant rides in Thailand and Cambodia, the plight of their captive counterparts in India has remained largely hidden from public gaze.

Fed the wrong diets, Kerala’s Elephants suffer malnourishment (Action for Elephants UK)

Photographs and videos posted online have shown how, away from the glitz of the festivals, these sensitive, intelligent and naturally sociable creatures are tied to the spot by ropes or chains that eat into their skin and inflict agonising injuries to their legs; they are hit with metal rods or bull-hooks – sharp tools – and “trained” with punishments to hold their heads high.

When the six-month festival season begins in December, they are forced to walk for miles in searing heat on hot, stinging tar roads and ridden into processions noisy with crowds and fireworks – terrifying for a creature whose home is the forest. While still shackled in chains they are made to run races or carry people and are subjected to “painful and unnatural” “head-lifting” competitions.

Some Elephants are carted from one festival to another – in some cases hundreds of miles – and despite suffering sometimes infected wounds from the chains, are ridden in searing temperatures by people who apparently see no harm in what they do.

The southern coastal state of Kerala has the highest number of festival Elephants, about 500 out of 3,500-4,000 across the country. Action for Elephants UK (AfE) brands Kerala “ground zero for elephant torture” and has called their illegal treatment “the worst case of animal cruelty in the world”. The plight of the 150 captive elephants in neighbouring Tamil Nadu is feared to be just as BAD.

Footage posted by local group Kerala Suffering Elephants (KSE) reveals how an Elephant named Gurvayur Nandan was paraded at a festival until dawn, before being transported for eight hours standing on the back of a truck in the scorching sun for eight hours without rest to a separate event that ran until midnight.

Malnourished and deprived of medical care, captive individuals of the endangered species rarely survive this “unrelenting neglect and torture” for a natural lifespan. The mortality rate in Kerala is shocking: 58 have died in 27 months, and already in 2018, 12 have succumbed, according to KSE. In seven years, the death toll is 350. “There could be no more damning proof of the hellish conditions and treatment meted out to these Elephants,” says Maria Mossman, founder of AfE.

Elephants are shackled in heavy chains that wound the flesh (Action for Elephants UK

For all the abuse, injuries and mental torment, it’s not the pain or infections that usually kills them early, it’s “intestinal impactions”: a blocked colon caused by being fed the wrong diet and insufficient quantities of water. The condition means they die “a miserable and painful” early death.

Campaigners have had enough. Gathering outside the Indian High Commission in London, they staged a protest to draw the attention of the New Delhi government and the world at large to the animals’ plight. Wearing large Elephant masks and waving placards, they came from a variety of backgrounds; some had travelled hundreds of miles to be there.

What unites these women – and yes, the campaigners are nearly all women – is a shared abhorrence of the “abuse and torture”. They adamantly deny attempting to interfere with religious culture.

“Temple Elephants are not part of any tradition,” explains Ms Mossman.

Their use in temples and festivals is not part of Indian culture, nor do Hindu scriptures anywhere say that Elephants should be used in temple rituals. On the contrary, the barbaric treatment of these elephants goes completely against the core beliefs of Hinduism”

In fact, the cruelty behind Kerala’s rituals is thought to have begun about a century ago as India’s nouveaux riches started to buy Elephants to flaunt their wealth. Denise Dresner, a co-organiser of AfE, recalls the heart-wrenching moment that opened her eyes to the scale of the problem: “In 2013 I saw a video by Peta of Sunder the temple Elephant being beaten. This was something I’d never witnessed before.

“An Elephant was on its side on the ground, struggling to get up. His feet were shackled and he was being beaten violently by several men, over and over again. He kept struggling, unable to get away from the blows raining down on him. I learned later he had been kept in a dark shed and beaten incessantly for seven years.

“That moment of seeing him being beaten and tortured was seared into my brain and heart. It’s an image that will never leave me, one that shows the extremes of human violence and brutality towards other living beings. The unspeakable cruelty perpetrated on these majestic, sentient and highly intelligent creatures must end.”

For Maria Harper, another protester, it’s the duration of the suffering that is worst. “What upset me most was when I realised the length of time the temple and festival Elephants suffer,” she says.

“They can endure cruelty and abuse for more than 50 years – if they are unfortunate enough to survive that long. It’s a life sentence”

Seeing the photos and hearing the accounts is harrowing. But Ms Mossman says it’s vital if their welfare is to improve. “The world needs to know how handlers use banned weapons and restrain them with heavy shackles, often tightened so severely that they cut through the flesh, causing raw bleeding wounds that are seldom treated. “They are often forced to stand in the same position 24/7, in their own urine and excrement, suffering from foot rot. They are beaten and tortured time and again.”

Some mahouts think nothing of whipping an Elephant to make it bend to his will, such as climbing into a truck. But the abuse doesn’t end there.

Most of Kerala’s captive Elephants are bulls. When they enter their annual musth – mating season – their testosterone levels and energy surge, so the mahouts tighten their shackles further until the creatures are unable to move. In addition, food and water are restricted to weaken them.

But then comes the cruellest torture yet. Several men, often drunken, beat the chained Elephant for up to 72 hours relentlessly. The practice is based on a superstitious belief that the Elephants may have forgotten their commands during their musth, and is designed to break the Elephant’s spirit, “reminding him that his masters are in control”.

All bull Elephants in Kerala undergo this horror every year.

These practices are banned by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, but campaigners point out that the laws are routinely ignored.

Elephants are paraded with no ownership papers or parade certificates, or with fake fitness certificates, breaking the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which says they cannot be exploited for profit, AfE says. Recent laws banning the use of disabled, sick or pregnant elephants in festivals are also ignored.

“The plight of these Elephants is arguably the worst case of animal abuse in the world. The suffering that temple Elephants endure is unimaginable”

“India has very good laws, but they are ignored daily and the abusers go unpunished,” says Ms Mossman. “Not only are Elephants intelligent and sentient beings, they are an endangered species. It is the duty not only of India to enforce the laws to protect them, but of the world to hear their cries of suffering and respond to end the brutality against them.”

She and KSE agree that making profits and keeping the status quo are at the root of the problem. “These sentient animals are seen only as commodities, earning huge sums of money for their owners and the temples,” says Ms Mossman. “Exploited under the veneer of culture and religion, they are big business. Everyone, from the chief minister downwards, has a stake.”

The 3,000 temples that rent out Elephants to festival organisers are run by four devaswom (socio-religious trusts), appointed by the state government, and each temple earns many millions of rupees from festivals.

Any Elephant that makes it beyond 60 is purposely neglected and abused – treated as a disposable item – so the owners can make hefty insurance claims, according to AfE.

Sangita Iyer, who was born and raised in Kerala and made an award-winning 2016 film, Gods in Shackles, revealing what goes on behind the scenes at the festivals, is convinced greed is to blame.

“Elephants are allowed to die so the owners can receive the pay-outs. There’s a whole insurance industry surrounding this, in which the owners and brokers make the most profit.”

A dead tusker that suffered intestinal blockages is covered with a cloth. Most captive elephants die young after years of pain (Action for Elephants UK)

According to India’s Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, which in 2014 petitioned the Supreme Court of India to order better conditions for the animals, another factor is young men showing off. “Today’s mahouts are in it for the glamour and the thrill. Unlike the mahouts of the old, who learnt the ways of handling the Elephants over time, these guys know only oppression and violence,” one rescuer says.

Nor does Ms Iyer particularly blame festival-goers. “Most people are unaware of the crushing burden these Elephants carry, in the literal sense, on their backs, and in their hearts and souls. Most people don’t realise the brutality that these sentient beings undergo to entertain them. They are so hypnotised by the majestic, ornate Elephants and lost in their own selfish world that they don’t even look at the raw bleeding ankles.”

However bad the suffering of the individuals, the abuse has wider repercussions. KSE warns it could even lead to the extinction of Indian Elephants.

“As each of these Elephants die from overwork, intestinal impactions etc, the surviving ones are going to be overworked even more. It’s a vicious cycle and will probably end only when there are no Elephants left”

Taking young Elephants from the wild has a serious impact on wild Elephant populations in India and elsewhere, activists fear. People’s lives, too, are being put at risk. Some elephants, driven frantic by their suffering, break free and run amok. Behind media reports of people being killed by a rampaging Elephant there almost always lies a story of a brutalised animal.

There have also been 300 incidents of Elephants running amok in the first three months of this year. Earlier this month there were unconfirmed reports of Elephants running amok at festivals in Ernakulam and Kollam districts. Unofficial counts put it at 20 incidents in one week.

Action for Elephants is warning prime minister Narendra Modi these rituals are not just harming the country’s most iconic wildlife, but also India’s multi-million-pound tourism industry and reputation. “We hope tourists and visitors to India will make ethical choices and will shun all forms of Elephant tourism that use elephants in any unnatural way, whether in festivals or for trekking or rides or any other purpose,” a statement by the group says.

“In this day and age, when we have gained so much knowledge about the intelligence, emotional capacity, and social bonds of these majestic creatures, and when we know how endangered they are, we believe that all countries have a duty to protect them, treat them humanely, and give them sanctuary.”

India is positioned to take a global lead in ethical wildlife tourism, the letter says.

As long as the current system of cruelty is allowed to continue, the more it will negatively impact India’s tourism and tarnish India’s reputation and image in the world

Signatories include primatologist Jane Goodall, TV star Michael Palin, author Jilly Cooper, TV presenter Anneka Svenska and radio presenter Nicky Campbell, as well as MP Zac Goldsmith.

Filmmaker Ms Iyer believes educating the public is the only way to achieve change. “Ignorance and arrogance make for a bad potion, and unless and until we are able to create attitude shifts in the public eye, there’s little hope for these sentient beings.

“There is no point in fighting the owners or brokers. Enlightening the people is the only way to stop the audience from participating in festivals that use live Elephants and reduce demand for such cultural festivals. When the demand dies down, the Elephants will be ultimately phased out.”

The Indian High Commission in London did not respond to a request by The Independent to comment and refused to send anybody to open the door when visited in person.

There are some glimmers of hope, however. Occasionally, news of progress made by welfare workers on the ground emerges, and an elephant rescue can become a stand-out memory for followers. The film that startled Ms Gaffney was called Raju the Elephant Cried on the Day he was Released from Chains. His rescue made headlines.

Ms Dresner says she followed each step in a protracted legal case to free Sunder with her heart in her throat. “Finally, when he was freed, the joy was overwhelming. Like so many others, I then followed his progress in his new home at Bannerghatta Biological Park, crying (happily) with every bit of good news: his healing leg, his first swim in the pond, his making new friends, his putting weight on his skeletal frame.”

Fellow demonstrator Joanne Smith agrees. “The terrible delays with the court case were so hard to take but the day Sunder was given his freedom was thrilling,” she recalls. “It proved to me that we can make a difference with hard work and determination.”

In the past two years, three temples have done away with renting Elephants for festivals. One used mechanical stand-in; another used an 8ft dummy made of plaster of Paris and bamboo. Organisers say they may even offer the model to neighbouring temples for their own festivals, allowing the idea to catch on.

The London protest and letter also have the support of Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley, whose message was: “One of the most influential Indians of all time, Mahatma Gandhi, said: ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’

“India! Listen to his words and implement them. The world supports your laws against cruelties to temple Elephants, but only you can ensure that they are enforced.”

And that, say campaigners, really would be worth a celebration.

Gods In Shackles

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Elephant Hit By Train In West Bengal’s Dooars Passes Away After Struggling For Hours.

Another man-animal conflict story was reported in West Bengal when a train engine hit an Elephant trying to cross the tracks, critically injuring the animal.

The incident happened in the Jalpaiguri district of the state.

The Banarhat-Nagrakata train route passes through a major Elephant corridor often leading to such tragic accidents involving Elephants.

The heart-wrenching video that surfaced on various social media platforms showed the critically injured Elephant trying hard to drag itself out of the railway track, as people watched in helplessness, after being hit by the engine of the intercity express.

The video shows the impact of the injury on the poor animal while people watch helplessly. In 2004, the Dooars line was converted from metre gauge to broad gauge; a move that saw a sharp increase in Elephant deaths.

But despite all the precautionary measures and efforts, such as speed limits and buzzers, trains on the Dooars route have continued to kill Elephants.

In the period between 2013 to June 2019, a total of 67 Elephants were killed in train-related accidents.

Actor Randeep Hooda said in a twitter post “The agony of the Elephant is quite evident in the video, the impact can be gauged by the damage to the engine.

I humbly urge the ministry to drastically reduce speed of trains through this area, humans can easily manage slight delay to keep wildlife safe”

For the sake of the Elephants, let’s hope they listen and reduce the speed of trains through the corridor.

A petition is being filed asking Indian Railway to review the permitted speed of 50kmph in the day time in dense forest areas. The maximum speed before the increase was 25kmpg and had shown a sharp decrease in the accidents and death of Elephants.

Please sign the petition HERE

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Shocking Image Shows Stag Which Died After Being Caught In Discarded Plastic

This stag had to be put down after being entangled in plastic waste for over a week

This shocking picture shows a beautiful stag which died after it was found with its antlers wrapped – in a mass of discarded plastic strapping.

The graphic content shows the distressed animal was discovered tangled in the plastic waste on a hillside on the west coast of Jura, Inner Hebrides, on Wednesday.

It is thought the stag had been grazing on seaweed on the idyllic island’s shoreline when the plastic banding caught on his antlers.

He then walked around a mile onto the hillside, where he has been starving for the last week as the plastic was wrapped around his mouth.

The beautiful animal was discovered by shocked gamekeeper, Scott Muir, 32, who said the stag sadly had to be put to sleep.

Scott, who has lived on the island – with a population of just 230 – all his life, said plastic pollution on the coast has increasingly worsened in the last five years.

He said: “I was walking over the estate when I saw the plastic waste and realised there was a stag caught.

“I thought it was dead at first but as I approached it I could see his head start to move.

“These can be 18st animals and I know how powerful they can be, but he looked tired and stressed and he couldn’t see because the plastic was right around his antlers.

“He wouldn’t have been able to graze either as it was right over his mouth, so he was effectively starving.

“He would have been down at the shore grazing on seaweed, like a lot of the stags do, and as he has had his antlers down they have caught in the plastic banding.

one of jura’s magnificent stags

“It looks like he has then walked about a mile up onto the hillside, no mean feat considering it was tangled around his back leg as well as round his antlers.

“I think he has been there for about a week. In the end the animal had to sadly be put down.”

Scott is also a volunteer with Wild Side of Jura, a group aiming to protect the west coast and raise awareness to stop plans for a potential fish farm being built.

Scott said: “We are a group of five or six volunteers who came together to protect the west coast of Jura and raise awareness of a fish farm which is trying to be built here.

“The plastic pollution is getting worse. We have seen an increase in plastic waste on the west coast in the last five, six years.

discarded plastic waste on jura

“The plastic on the stag is not fishing net but plastic banding which is used in conjunction with fishing.

“We can’t categorically say where it came from but I’d be willing to bet some sort of commercial fishing, fish farm, which is what we are trying to stop on the west coast of Jura.”

Angry locals took to social media to voice their outrage. One said: “That’s shocking, poor animal, the thought of him struggling with that for hours makes me so angry.

“So much plastic out there, it makes it much more of a reality when you see the damage it does so close to home.”

Another said: “Poor thing, what an awful sight. I can’t believe how loosely regulated boats are it’s dreadful.”

Someone else added: “Whoever threw that, and more, overboard obviously do not care about the consequences of their actions

“Out of sight, out of mind. What a terrible plight for an innocent creature.”

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Potentially Devastating Melting Arctic Sea Ice Causing Deadly Phocine Distemper Virus (PDV) To Spread In Marine Mammals!

Climate change could be to blame for spikes in a deadly virus among otters, seals and sea lions around the Arctic, a new study has suggested.

Phocine distemper virus (PDV) has been common in the northern Atlantic ocean for decades but as a result of melting Arctic sea ice it has now appeared among marine mammals in the northern Pacific ocean too.

When the virus started to spread across species of Otters, Seals and Sea Lions in the northern Pacific Oceans, scientists thought melting ice could be the culprit. 

The 15-year study which tracked the animals via satellite found PDV, which can kill some species, was most common in years when so much Arctic ice melted it became possible for mammals to move freely from the Atlantic to Pacific regions.

a dog swimming in a body of water
Sea Otters

Steadily rising global temperatures due to climate change have meant more and more sea ice is melting around the Arctic, opening up sea lanes which for thousands of years have been impassable.

Between 1979 and 2018, Arctic sea ice declined on average 12.8 per cent each decade, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“These sea ice changes in September are likely unprecedented for at least 1,000 years,” the IPCC said in a report published in September.

Researchers studied 15 years of data that tracked 2,500 marine mammals in a variety of locations via satellite to find if upticks in PDV matched with declines in sea ice. They also studied measurements of Arctic sea ice over the same time period and examined blood and nasal swab samples from 165 dead ice-associated animals. 

Testing showed about 30 per cent of Stellar Sea Lions in the northern Pacific Ocean were infected with the disease, which had previously been mostly confined to Atlantic populations.

Steller sea lions swim through waters off the coast of British Columbia. Scientists are concerned that a deadly virus killing northern sea lions could spread farther south as the ice melts, infecting marine mammals off the coast of California.
Steller Sea Lions swim through waters off the coast of British Columbia. Scientists are concerned that a deadly virus killing Northern Sea Lions could spread farther south as the ice melts, infecting marine mammals off the coast of California.

Researchers concluded that melting Arctic sea ice caused by human-driven climate change paved the way for PDV to spread to new regions and infect new populations of marine mammals, especially along the northern Russian coast and along the coast of northern Canada. 

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A Tragic Wolf Called ‘Romeo’ Loved Too Much, And He Deserved Better.

On a twilit night in Juneau, Alaska, in December 2003, and Nick and Sherrie Jans were walking with Dakotah, their yellow Lab, in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area not far from their house. Suddenly, a young black wolf appeared on the ice—and began running in their direction. Awestruck but scared, the couple watched as Dakotah broke loose and charged the predator, which was twice the size of the dog. The animals stopped yards apart and gazed at each other “as if each were glimpsing an almost-forgotten face and trying to remember,” recalled Jans. After a few moments, Dakotah ran back to her owners, and the three hurried home, listening to the wolf howl

The locals named him Romeo, and soon his presence was noted by the entire town. Most found it fascinating that Romeo was so friendly, while others assumed that this naturally predatory animal would give into his natural instincts at any moment, potentially attacking their pets and children.

During this time Nick Jans started documenting Romeo. When he did, he uncovered an emotional story, the heart of which describes the tenuous relationships between wild animals and the humans around them.

“The first thing I saw was tracks out on the lake in front of our house on the outskirts of Juneau,” Jans said in an interview with National Geographic. “A few days later, I looked out from my house and there was this wolf out on the ice. I’d had 20 years of experience around wolves up in the Arctic and immediately knew it was a wolf, not a dog. I threw on my skis and found him.”

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ROMEO

According to Jans, Romeo seemed totally relaxed and friendly.

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And it wasn’t just one interaction, either: Romeo remained his curious, friendly self for the better part of six years.

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“For want of a better word,” Jans said, “The only thing I can say from a human perspective is that it amounted to friendship. If you wanted to be scientifically correct, it would be “social mutual tolerance.” But it was more than that. The wolf would come trotting over to say hi, and give a little bow and a relaxed yawn, and go trotting after us when we went skiing. There was no survival benefit. He obviously just enjoyed our company.”

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Romeo’s behavior was definitely unusual, as many wolves tend to assert dominance by attacking dogs and other animals.

The wolf got his name because Jans and his family noticed how Romeo was kind of a flirt — particularly with their “Juliet,” a dog named Dakotah. Here, they’re standing nose-to-nose in what seems to be an all-too-perfect photo moment.

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Romeo survived for years despite many mortal threats: scented traps, busy roads, illegal hunting, and even a poisoning attempt. He also had to contend with the natural dangers of starvation, injury, and attack by another pack of wolves. By almost any standard, his prolonged proximity to humans and dogs constituted incredibly rare behaviour. There was no obvious survival benefit to his socializing, yet the wolf lingered persistently, a late echo of the original process that must have initiated the domestication of dogs.

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“When you get down to the genetic difference between a wolf and a domestic dog, whether it is a Chihuahua or a Great Dane, all dogs are 99.98 percent genetically a wolf. That 0.02 percent obviously looms huge, because if you raise a wolf cub from the time it opens its eyes, it may make a wonderfully bonded animal, but it will not be a dog, no matter what you do. It will act like a wolf and be a wolf. It takes generations to shape the soul of a wolf and its physical shape into man’s best friend.”

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Romeo stayed in the area for as long as he lived — and he lived three times longer than most wild wolves do.

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“Romeo was the single most transformative event of my life,” Jans said. “The amazing thing was Romeo’s understanding. It wasn’t just our understanding and tolerance. It was the combination of his and ours and the dogs’. We were these three species working out how to get along harmoniously. And we did.”

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What happened to Romeo?                                                                                                   Romeo disappeared in late September 2009. After some sleuthing, a supporter found he had been shot and killed by Juneau resident Park Myers III and his Pennsylvanian friend Jeff Peacock. Both men were arrested and ended up paying fines, serving a few years on probation, and losing hunting and fishing privileges for a limited time. In late November 2010, a memorial service was held for Romeo and this plaque was laid along a path where he once roamed.

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“Nothing can take away the miracle that was Romeo and the years we spent in his company,” writes Jans. “Love, not hate, is the burden we carry.”

Nick Jans’ beautiful account of his unusual relationship is now in a book called A Wolf Called Romeo.

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