When wildlife photographer Nick Jans and his faithful labrador Dakota, encountered a wild wolf while walking in the wilderness, Jans braced himself for the worst. Wolves are shy creatures by nature, but when provoked can be extremely dangerous. But to their surprise the imposing animal only wanted to play.
On that cold winter day in 2003, Jans found himself in the beginning of a relationship that would transform the perspective of an entire community.
1. Jans first encountered the wild wolf near his backyard in Juneau, Alaska.
He just appeared one day, an unknown lone animal who was curious about the suburban town.
2. The jet-black wolf spotted Jans and Dakota from a distance, but did not show any aggression.
The wolf and lab sniffed each other cautiously, but Jans was shocked when they started to play!
3.The wolf soon disappeared into the wilderness, but would often come back to Nick’s house to say hello to his new friends.
“This wolf was downright relaxed and tolerant from the start, as if he had dropped out of the sky like a unicorn,” Jans said.
4. His sociable behavior increased to include humans as well.
He clearly developed favorites and would walk right up to the dogs and owners he recognized.
5. The wolf was named Romeo.
He started spending so much time around town that he gained an entire pack of pals.
6. At first, Juneau's residents didn't trust Romeo around their pups, but it soon became clear he was one of a kind.
7. He was very gentle, even with poorly behaved dogs and humans.
He chose to have social contact with dogs instead of the usual family group or pack.
“The wolf would bring out toys that he’d stashed. One was a Styrofoam float. Romeo would pick it up and bring it to [my friend] Harry to throw. He clearly understood the same sort of behaviors that we see in dogs,” Nick said.
8. It was a beautiful time.
“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,” said Nick.
9. No one fed him or touched him; he remained a wild predator who hunted on his own.
“He was a pure wild wolf. He was not a pet, as some suggested, that had been released, because then he would have been coming to us for food.”
10. After a day of play, Romeo would trot off into the wild he was made for.
“He was his own gatekeeper and came and went as he pleased. Sometimes he disappeared for weeks. He clearly was catching and eating wild food with great skill,” explained Nick.
11. After 6 years, Romeo passed away, but not before leaving his mark on a mystified and grateful community.
“The average lifespan 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,” Nick says.
12. After his death, there was a memorial service out by the Mendenhall Glacier.
The Mendenhall Glacier was his home territory and the service in his honor was attended by over a hundred people and a number of dogs.
13. When his recorded howls were played, several of the dogs howled along.
14. The town has ensured he will never be forgotten.
They have 2 streets, a coffee, a beer, and a bar that have been named after him. And this winter there will be a museum exhibit to commemorate the time he spent among the people of Juneau.
Nick Jans also recorded the events in his book entitled “A Wolf Called Romeo”.
What an amazing example of harmony and peace! Nature is truly incredible.
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