A Tragic Wolf Called ‘Romeo’ Loved Too Much, And He Deserved Better.
Over 13 years ago, a terrifying black wolf started showing up around the suburb of Juneau, Alaska. Only, this black wolf only looked terrifying: In reality, he was just there to make friends.
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, a wildlife photographer named 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."
According to Jans, Romeo seemed totally relaxed and friendly.
And it wasn't just one interaction, either: Romeo remained his curious, friendly self for the better part of six years.
"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."
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.
Jans says that Romeo is an interesting example of just how close to dogs -- and domesticity -- wolves really are.
"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."
Romeo stayed in the area for as long as he lived -- and he lived three times longer than most wild wolves do.
Here, Jans holds up a plaque in his memory. "The average life span of a wolf in the wild is three years. Romeo was already full grown when he showed up, and then he lived among us for six-plus more years. So he was at least eight years old at the time of his death. So we must have been keeping him safe because he outlived a wild wolf by nearly three times," Jans remembers.
Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire
Jans also wrote a book about Romeo's life and death, entitled "A Wolf Called Romeo."
"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."
Source: National Geographic