Millions Have Fallen For This Long-Distance Stork Love Story

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True love knows no limitations or borders.

Humans aren’t the only species to practice monogamy, and one pair of storks have proven that no amount of distance or time can diminish the flame between two creatures who really love one another. Now, thanks to technology, the entire world has a birds-eye-view of this pair’s enduring love story, and their annual reunion brings joy to thousands.

The story began 25 years ago, when a now-71-year-old widower named Stjepan Vokic found an injured female stork by a pond near his village in Brodski Varoš, Croatia. The stork had a badly damaged wing because she’d been illegally shot by a hunter.

Stjepan began caring for the bird, bringing her fish he caught in his pond, and even building her a huge nest on top of his house. In the winters, Stjepan creates an “improvised Africa” setting in his garage, complete with a nest, heating, and an aquarium.

I also take her fishing since I can’t take her to Africa. We even watch TV together. 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.

Stjepan formed a close bond with his stork. He calls her Malena, which means “little one” in Croatian. One spring day, a male stork was returning from his migration in South Africa when he noticed Malena in her nest atop Stjepan’s house.

It was love at first sight!

The male, called Klepetan, is healthy and able to make the strenuous yearly migratory trip from Croatia to South Africa, but Malena is not.

While this inconvenience might put a damper on more typical love affairs, it didn’t phase these two. Instead, every year Klepetan flies the 5,000 miles to South Africa alone, then returns in the spring to be with his true love.

In the past 15 years, Malena and Klepetan have raised 62 babies together. Before he migrates in the fall, Klepetan teaches his offspring how to fly, like the good father that he is.

Intrigued by their love story and suspecting that others might enjoy watching the pair reunite each year as well, Stjepan rigged up a video camera and began a live stream of the nest. Now, millions of people tune in to watch Klepetan return to Malena’s nest every March. They’re veritable celebrities in Croatia!

When Klepetan was late one year, Stjepan was heartbroken and feared the worst. Not only do migrating storks face a number of dangers on their 5,000-mile path, including predation and starvation, but their course takes them over Lebanon, where poachers routinely hunt the animals for sport.

Inspired by his storks’ love story, Stjepan has become an advocate for ending the hunting practice, even writing a heartfelt open letter to Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, to ask for legislation to protect birds during their migration seasons.

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