'Who said long-distance doesn't work?'
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 3, 2022. It has since been updated.
Malena and Klepetan's love story is one of the history books. The stork couple became a symbol of star-crossed lovers once the world came to know of their incredible tale. Malena's story begins in 1993 when Stjepan Vokic, a 71-year-old widower, found her near a pond injured by a shot from hunters. As the injury left her unable to fly, Vokic took her in and made sure she had a comfortable life.
A few years later, she met Klepetan who—like most Croatian storks—migrates to South Africa at the end of every August. Given Malena's accident, she was unable to accompany him on the annual 8,000-mile journey. Without Klepetan's company during the fall and winter, Malena would stay with Vokic in the little Croatian village. "I also take her fishing since I can't take her to Africa. We even watch TV together," Vokic told AFP. "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."
Every March, as if on cue, for nearly two decades, Klepetan would make his way back from the balmy south to rejoin his love, Malena. Storks don't always stay together, but they frequently return to the same nests and mate, which might account for Klepetan's everlasting commitment, reports The Dodo.
Anticipating Klepetan's return every year, Vokic would prepare a fresh bucket of fish for him to feast on. He helped the stork recover from the exhausting journey and take his place in the nest next to Malena. Some years, Klepetan returned a week early, surprising both Malena and Vokic. It seems he couldn't wait to get back home to his Malena.
Meet Klepetan - the South African stork who migrated to Croatia every year for 19 years to visit his love Malena, a female stork left unable to fly after being shot by a hunter. Who said long-distance doesn’t work? 💕🕊️🤩 pic.twitter.com/OuwDt1ZwtF— Lewis Pugh Foundation (@LewisPughFDN) November 28, 2022
When neighbors asked Vokic if the stork that shows up was certainly Klepetan, he quickly reassured them, reported Total Croatia News, saying: "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."
The Croatian Tourist Board also took note of the sweet love tale and created an animated clip in honor of the now-famous pair, with the message, "Say Hello To Someone You Love!" The Lewis Pugh Foundation tweeted in the couple's honor this week, writing, "Meet Klepetan - the South African stork who migrated to Croatia every year for 19 years to visit his love Malena, a female stork left unable to fly after being shot by a hunter. Who said long-distance doesn’t work?"
Unfortunately, Malena passed away in July 2021, Vokic confirmed to Index. "She didn't eat for eleven days, I tried to feed her, but she was there at my house... Klepetan arrived, but he doesn't want to go to the nest. He still thinks that she is somewhere, it's very difficult for me," Vokic told the outlet. "She was at the veterinarian for the last few days, but he said right away that there was no help for her."
''I noticed she wasn't well on June 9. It was just when the heatwave started. She wanted to go after Klepetan, but she couldn't. She fell down, and I brought her inside. She didn't want to eat nor did she want to drink any water. It was as if she wanted to end her life because falling down is a humiliation for storks, I'd say,'' Vokić said per Total Croatia News, adding that she passed away peacefully.