With Valentine's Day fast approaching, people worldwide are scrambling to find the perfect way to show their appreciation for their loved ones. For most, that means buying gifts ranging from cards to chocolates, flowers, expensive outings, and even fine jewelry. However, as the world's most famous stork couple Klepetan and Malena have proved, showering family and friends with material objects is not the only way to demonstrate true love.
The events leading to the epic love story began in 1993, when Stjepan Vokić — then a caretaker at a school in Brodski Varos in eastern Croatia — stumbled upon an injured female stork whose wing had been severely damaged by a hunter's bullet. Vokić decided to adopt the helpless bird, who had permanently lost her ability to fly. He named her Malena, which means little or small in Croatian. To try to provide the bird with as normal a life as possible, he built a nest for her on his roof every spring and summer. During winter, when the other storks migrated to warmer locations, Vokić would house Malena inside his warm garage.
In spring 2003, Vokić noticed that Malena had a regular companion — a male stork, who he later named Klepetan for the knocking sound the birds make with their beaks. When winter came, the stork flew away to warmer grounds, but to Vokić's astonishment, returned the following year to spend the spring and summer months with Malena, a routine he has maintained since. An electronic tracker fitted on Klepetan indicated that he spends the winters 8,000 miles (13,000 km) away in Cape Town, Africa!
Fortunately, Vokić always keeps a bucket of fish ready when the exhausted and starving bird — whose migration route takes him over the Horn of Africa, Somalia, Sinai, and the Iraqi deserts — returns to Croatia annually on March 24th. Over the years, the stork couple, who have had 66 chicks, have become national and global celebrities, with a children's book and a play dedicated to their undying affection for one another.
"It is a really special story about love. The way he returns each year, and how he doesn't care about her injury and the fact that they are apart for long months, it's just amazing. She is so sad when he leaves. Sometimes, we watch TV together, and I show her a video of her stork family: her, Klepetan, and their chicks. When she sees Klepetan, she starts to cry," Vokić told Chinese news agency Xinhua.
In 2019, when Klepetan returned to Brodski Varoš on March 18, a week earlier than his scheduled time, there was some concern that the bird may be an imposter. However, the stork quickly proved skeptics wrong. "He went straight to the bucket of fish, which was empty because I was not expecting him yet, and only he knows where to find it. Then, of course, we went to the nest just like every other year. That's Klepetan alright. It seems he couldn't wait to get back home to his Malena," Vokić said.
However, little did Vokić realize that Klepetan, who appeared extremely tired and unwell when he arrived, had come to bid his final farewell to Malena. He passed away shortly after. The caretaker says, "Four of them [the birds] came and began making some very sad noises. I knew then that Klepetan had gone, he had died. You know how they say that birds die singing."
Heartbreaking as Klepetan's loss is, Malena is fortunate to have a friend like Vokić. The 77-year-old, who lost his wife in 2018, says the stork keeps him occupied and is something to look forward to every day. "Malena gave birth to 66 little ones, that's enough for one mother. I'm very attached to her. I don't go to the coast or with friends anywhere. I always just worry about her," he said.
What a heartwarming story of true love and friendship!
Happy Valentine's Day!
Resources: odditycentral.com,totalcroatianews.com, croatiaweek.com, travelandleisure.com