The world’s most faithful male is a stork. Every year, for the past 16 years, he has flown 14,000 km from his winter home in South Africa to a small village in Croatia, Europe, to be with his handicapped mate, who cannot fly due to an old gunshot wound.
The amazing love story between Klepetan and Malena has made the two storks celebrities in Croatia. Every March, the male stork flies back to the village of Brodski Varos, where Malena is waiting for him. They mate and have new babies each year, which Klepetan then teaches how to fly, before migrating with them to South Africa. The injured female stays behind, as she cannot fly, but she’s always well taken care of during the cold winter.
Photo: YouTube screengrab
71-year-old Stjepan Vokic, a local school caretaker, adopted Malena in 1993, after finding her near a pond. She had been injured by hunters, and would have surely ended up as a meal for foxes or other predators, but he took her home and nursed her back to health. She wouldn’t be able to migrate for the winter ever again, but Vokic made sure her winter home was as comfortable as possible.
Called “improvised Africa”, by Vokic, the storage building Malena spends her winters in features a nest, heating and aquarium, and her human dad makes sure to bathe her regularly and rub cream on her feet to stop them drying out. So when Klepetan arrives in the first days of Spring, she’s ready to add more baby storks to the 62 they already have together.
“I also take her fishing since I can’t take her to Africa. We even watch TV together,” Vokic told AFP. “If I had left her in the pond foxes would have eaten her. But I changed her fate, so now I’m responsible for her life.”
Klepetan wears a tracking ring on one of his legs, and his final migratory destination has been traced to a wetland near Cape Town, in South Africa, some 14,500 km from Brodski Varos. It takes him little over a month to fly back to his beloved Malena every Spring.
Stjepan Vokic, who lives by himself, after losing his wife a few years ago, says that every time Klepetan arrives, he feels like one of his sons has returned home.