Ok I promised to tell you about Romeo so here it is.
This is the story of Romeo, the Mendenhall Glacier Wolf. I first heard it from our guide, Phil, but since then I have seen many children’s’ books. This version is condensed from The Alaska Cruise Companion.
Romeo’s story began one day in April 2003, when a young black wolf was struck and killed by a car within 1/4 mile of Mendenhall Visitor Center. Sad as this event was, park officials made the best of it and retrieved the wolf so that at least it could be prepared for display in the visitor’s center. They determined it was a female black wolf, which is a sub species of the gray wolf, and they also determined it was a young female. Young females will generally only leave a family pack with a new mate to start a family of their own, so park officials expected to see the mate in the area. Over the summer there was no sign but during the long, cold winter nights of November that year, residents repeatedly heard howls of a lone wolf ringing across the wilderness of the lake.
The first sighting came shortly after the new year, in January 2004. A local naturalist and author, Nick Jans , was skiing across the Lake with his dog Dakota when he noticed a lone set of wolf tracks stretching across the lake. He took Dakota home and returned to the lake , and encountered the wolf for the first time. It was alone and it was a young male black wolf. A solitary wolf is unusual , especially in winter when wolves typically regroup with their family packs to ensure successful hunting, so when Jans reported the lone wolf sighting, wildlife officials presumed they had found the mate for the young female killed earlier in the year.
As the winter stretched on, the young wolf began to appear regularly , even accompanying Jans and Dakota on their routings across the lake. The wolf would play with Dakota , just like any other dog might, and even took to following the duo home. There he waited outside the house for the female lab to appear, leading to his nickname, Romeo. Unbelievably, this went on for many years. Romeo would disappear over the summer but return each winter once the visitors had left and the lake was frozen over.
The iconic appearance of a lone black wolf against the dramatic backdrop of the snow-white lake was enough to draw attention on it’s own , but Romeo was also sociable, and other visitors to the lake had the same experience as Jans and Dakota. Romeo would appear and play with the pets even fetching tennis balls. He didn’t become a pet. No one tried to feed him or pet him but he quickly became a living legend in the region.
In 2009, the story took a sad turn. Romeo failed to reappear that fall and in fact was not seen or heard of again. Eventually a wolf pelt surfaced that was identified as Romeo’s, and in May 2010, two hunters were charged with illegally shooting the protected wolf.
Although Romeo is gone now he dispelled many misconceptions about wolves and in so doing has become a legend.
For more details Nick Jans has written a new book, Glacier Wolf, about his encounters with Romeo.