Despite their incredible beauty and their obvious similarities with our considerably tamer canine companions, everyone knows not to play with wolves. So when wildlife photographer Nick Jans and his Labrador encountered a wild wolf behind their home, adrenaline started pumping through them both.
When the wolf approached the Labrador, Nick could only stand helplessly by and watch. But what he didn't know then, on that cold winter day of 2003 was that that encounter was the beginning of a relationship that defied all logic - and fundamentally transformed an entire community.
During the winter of 2003, a jet-black wolf showed up on the edge of suburban Juneau, Alaska. But this wolf didn’t bear his teeth and growl aggressively. Instead, it seemed to long for companionship. Wildlife photographer Nick Jans was on his back porch when he saw the wolf for the first time. Despite the danger, Nick’s Labrador went to meet the visitor.
Nick, who had photographed and tracked wolves for years, immediately knew that the wolf was wild. So he was shocked when his Labrador suddenly started to play with him. He hurriedly grabbed his camera, and began to capture the unexpected moment.
After a while, the wolf returned into the wilderness, but it wasn’t long before he returned. The wolf would come to Nick’s house to greet him often and sometimes it even followed Nick when the photographer went skiing. And the wolf was always gentle, says Nick.
“This wolf was downright relaxed and tolerant from the start, as if he had dropped out of the sky like a unicorn,” the photographer told National Geographic.
Years passed and Nick spent much time documenting the wolf. He eventually named the wolf Romeo. At first, many of the small town's residents didn’t trust Romeo, but they soon realized that he was a wolf unlike any other.
Romeo soon became known by everyone in the area. People took their dogs to Mendenhall Glacier Park so their dogs could meet Romeo. There were never any serious incidents.
Not only did Romeo make plenty of dog friends in and around Juneau, he even sometimes interacted and played with humans.
“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.
“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.
Romeo lived on the outskirts of Juneau for six years. He became an ambassador for nature and a powerful symbol for the entire community.
“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. 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.
After six years, Romeo’s time in the community ended. He passed away in 2010, but residents will never forget how he transformed the village.
“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,” Nick says.
Shortly after Romeo passed away, the city of Juneau commemorated the wolf, creating a special plaque to honor him. The plaque is installed by the lake he used to frequent. What a beautiful touch!
That three such different species were able to live alongside peacefully and in complete harmony is so inspiring. It really shows you how wonderful the world and nature can be!
Please share this amazing story with your friends to honor Romeo's memory.