BirdLife: The Magazine June 2017 - Page 28

THE SEX ISSUE Y LOVE OVER LEBANON The long-distance love story of the lovestruck storks Klepetan and Malena has captivated a nation. But now, conservation heroes both outside and within Lebanon are fighting to ensure Klepetan doesn’t become another sad statistic Alex Dale ou could set your clock to Klepetan. Over a million Croatians watching via live stream already do. Every year, for the past 15 years, Klepetan, a male White Stork Ciconia ciconia returns to the same red-tiled rooftop in Brodski Varoš, a small Croatian village near the Bosnian border. Except last year, Klepetan was late. Six days late. Normally, he returns on March 24th, give or take a day, but it was now March 30th, and his partner, Malena, was cast- ing a lonely figure as she waited patiently for her beau to return. But then, at 4:40pm, Klepetan dramatically swooped into view of the livefeed camera, reu- niting the two lovebirds after months apart and sending the nation into rapturous joy. But what is it about this particular pair of storks that resonates with the Croatian public above all others? Perhaps it’s because their relationship has to endure something that most lovers will be familiar with at one point or another in their lives – distance. Klepetan, you see, has to make the long, arduous 8,000 km trip to South Africa alone every win- ter. Malena was ille- gally shot in 1993, and hasn’t flown properly since. Luckily for her, she was discovered at the side of the road by a school janitor, Stjepan Vokic, who treated her wounds and has looked after her ever since – building a makeshift nest on the roof of his house for her, and providing shel- ter for her during the cold winter months. It was while she was enjoying the roof nest one day 15 years ago that she was spotted and wooed by Klepetan, and the pair have been inseparable since (most of the year, anyway). Over the years, the lovers have reared dozens of chicks. But come the winter, Klepetan flies south to Africa with the other storks, leaving his flightless partner behind. When the birds return in the spring, Vokic, and the hundreds of thou- sands of people glued to the livestream, face an anxious wait to see if Klepetan has survived his perilous journeys. Migratory birds brave numer- ous threats every time they embark on their epic travels – from storms to starvation, predators to power lines. But there’s one particular stretch of Klepetan’s journey that has his supporters par- ticularly concerned – a 160 km stretch that takes Klepetan over Lebanon. The African-Eurasian Flyway – one of the most important migratory routes for birds in the world JUNE 2017 • BIRDLIFE MALENA WAS ILLEGALLY SHOT IN 1993 AND HASN’T FLOWN PROPERLY SINCE The letter sent to Lebanon’s President, Michel Aoun. Photo Stjepan Vokic 1 White Stork, Ciconia ciconia. Photo Walter Soestbergen/ Agami 2 AS ONE OF THE LARGER MIGRATORY BIRDS, STORKS ARE AN OBVIOUS TARGET FOR POACHERS – runs straight through Lebanon, and it is here that the journey ends for around 2.6 million birds as they are felled from the sky by irresponsible hunters. As one of the larger migratory birds, storks are an obvious target for poachers, and this year the issue of Klepetan’s safety is particu- larly poignant, with the news that a male stork called Tesla – one of two storks fitted with GPS trackers in Croatia for research purposes – met his end in Lebanon this past April. Vokic is so concerned about Klepetan’s wel- fare that he has taken the extraordinary step of writing a letter to the President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun – using a pen fashioned from one of Klepetan’s own feathers – a symbolic ges- ture that the feather is mightier than the sword. The heartfelt letter was delivered to Aoun in a box containing the very same feather used to write it – which Vokic urges Aoun should use to pen a law offering stronger protection for birds during the critical migra- tion seasons. An excerpt from the letter says: “In my country, there is a belief that storks bring children and that they bring new life. These two storks are my whole life. You do not have to believe in sto- ries for little children, but you can believe in the fact that in Cro- atia every spring, via live stream camera, over a million people await Klepetan’s return, and that the moment brings happiness and joy – reminding many of what love means and what it means to love.” Fortunately, Klepetan and his kind have many allies within Lebanon – including none less than the President, Michel Aoun. A former bird hunter himself, Aoun began to change his views on the practice after hearing news of sniper fire in Beirut in 1975. Mentally, he began to join the dots between humans killing out of anger and humans killing for sport, and ever since, he has endeavoured to deepen his understanding of the natural world. In early April – just days after Klepetan swooped into view on a million screens – Aoun delivered a passionate appeal to the Lebanese people to put the country’s nature first. “It is a shame to turn Lebanon into a wasteland without plants, trees, birds and sea animals, and cutting off trees to erect buildings is a major crime”, he said. “There should be a peace treaty between Man and the tree as well as Man and birds, because we con- tinue to transgress upon them.” 29