Every August, Klepatan says goodbye to his lover, Malena, before going to South Africa, where he spends the spring and summer. Every March, like clockwork, he flies back to Croatia to be with his partner. Klepatan and the love of his life, Malena, are birds, storks, to be more specific. And they have been continuing their long-distance romance for the past 16 years.
Klepatan is one of millions of birds that travel thousands of kilometers between South Africa and Croatia as the weather warms, but his relationship with Malena is one of a kind.
In 1993, Malena was shot by a hunter in Croatia. A school caretaker named Stjepan Vokic found the wounded bird and took her home. He cared for the bird until she was healthy and named her Malena, which means ‘little one.’
Stjepan nursed Malena back to health, but she still cannot fly properly. He wanted to make sure that Malena didn’t miss out on the joys of motherhood. To help her find a mate, Stjepan built her a nest on top of his house. In that nest, Malena and Klepatan first met, fell in love, and have raised many baby storks.
The local media celebrate Klepatan’s yearly visits. There is a 24-hour live video feed of Malena’s nest playing in the capital of Croatia.
Klepatan not only arrives on the same day but often at the same hour. In 2016, he broke the pattern and arrived six days late. It was so out of character that people panicked that something terrible must have happened to him. When another suitor arrived in his place, Malena would accept no substitutes for Klepatan. She attacked the new bird until he flew off.
Klepatan and Malena have 4 to 5 baby storks every year. Since Malena can only fly short distances, Klepatan handles the flight training of their children.
In August, Klepatan departs again on his 13,000-kilometer flight home, leaving Malena behind. This is when Stjepan steps in again to keep Malena from getting lonely. He says that after Klepatan leaves Malena, she mourns for ten days. “Then I take her in the car to the meadows for fishing to take her mind off it.” During the cold winter months, he brings Malena into his house to live with him. The ever-caring Stjepan feeds her fish, and the unlikely pair watch nature documentaries together on TV.