By Bala Menon
JUNEAU, Alaska: One day in the winter of 2003, a young black wolf appeared on the inhabited shores of the Mendenhall Lake – in an area where dogs ran unleashed and children played games. The wild three-year-old animal was a lone survivor of a five-member Nugget Basin pack; three had been trapped and killed, one was road kill.
The handsome wolf did not seem frightened or threatening and soon established bonds with other dogs and the people who named him Romeo because he apparently had a crush on a female Labrador. The name became famous across Juneau and soon people began arriving to see him – an extraordinary animal who is a feared predator in Alaska, playing with dogs.
Romeo did not want food, he only wanted companionship and to trot around the area where the evening crowd gathered to play on the lake ice. He also interacted with tourists and cross country skiers. Sometimes he would disappear for days, only to appear suddenly one day as his old playful self, gambolling, howling...
This continued for an amazing six years when he vanished forever in September 2009, plunging the whole city in gloom. Forest officers later arrested two serial poachers who had shot Romeo at point-blank range for his rich, black hide.
However, the beloved wolf of Juneau today lives on – as a high quality taxidermy mount at the Mendenhall Centre, along with a sound wand that has his recorded joyful howls. A bronze plaque has also been affixed on one of the trees on the Nugget Trail where he liked to roam.
A best-seller “A Wolf Called Romeo” was written by Nick Jans, to whom Romeo’s love interest the Labrador named Dakotah belonged. “Nothing can take away the miracle that was Romeo and the years we spent in his company,” wrote Jans. “Love, not hate, is the burden we carry.”
Pictures: Bala Menon