Dastin and Dag
In Spring 2002 in the Stolické vrchy Mountains, near Dobšina in eastern Slovakia, Jaroslav Molcan, a miner and hunter, found what he thought were dog puppies abandoned in the forest. They were so young that their eyes had not yet opened. Only two were alive, so he took them home and cared for them with his wife, feeding them on goat's milk. As they grew, the Molcans noticed that the pups, both male, had very large paws, and realised that they were in fact wolves. They then told the authorities and were advised that the keeping of protected species such as wolves is illegal in Slovakia. However, as no suitable facility existed to take the pups, they were left with the Molcans.
Mr Molcan built a small cage for the pups, measuring 3m x 2m, with a kennel. He and his wife cared for the wolves, which they named Dastin and Dag, taking them for walks and paying for veterinary treatment. The wolves made no attempt to hunt wild animals when out for walks. When let off their leashes they always came back, although sometimes after several hours. There were some problems: they killed chickens in the village and on one occasion Mr. Molcan's son was bitten, and the wolves threatened several other people, seeming to particularly dislike people who had consumed alcohol, although they were friendly towards most visitors.
When the family's female dog was in heat, the wolves would try to prevent anyone from approaching her, and they killed one of the family's cats. During a dispute with some neighbour's dogs in the village, one of the wolves gripped a dog in his mouth and shook it vigorously, but did not kill or injure it seriously. After some time the Molcans decided to stop taking the wolves out for walks, as they were concerned that there could be a problem if they encountered walkers with dogs. Although they continued to allow the wolves to exercise around the garden, they came to realise that it would be better for the wolves if less cramped, and legal, facilities could be found for them.
Finding a new home
In early 2006, the Slovak authorities asked us to help find a new home for the two wolves. Finding facilities for large carnivores such as wolves and bears is always difficult, and the state nature conservation authorities had been unable to find anywhere suitable for them in Slovakia. We alerted our partners, the Wolves and Humans Foundation and the Born Free Foundation, and together set about contacting facilities and organisations throughout Europe to try and find a suitable home, but disappointingly, no one would help.
After several months we had not found anywhere that would take the wolves and their future was looking bleak, when Arcturos, a Greek environmental organisation working for sustainable development and management of protected areas, offered to rehome them at their wolf sanctuary: seven hectares of oak-forested hillside, 600m above sea level in Aetos Florina, in north-western Greece. The sanctuary is part of the Arcturos Environmental Centre which also includes a bear sanctuary, an information centre and a livestock guarding dog breeding station.
Once moving the wolves from Slovakia to Greece was agreed in principle, with the financial assistance of the Born Free Foundation and Wolves and Humans, we worked with the authorities to co-ordinate all the necessary permissions and procedures, involving the State Nature Conservancy of Slovakia, Slovenský kras National Park, Bojnice Zoo, the District Environment Office in Rožnava, the Environment Ministry of Slovakia and the scientific authorities of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in both Greece and Slovakia. Crates suitable for transporting the wolves by air had to be arranged, along with certificates for export and import from CITES authorities; medical checks and procedures had to be undertaken, including vaccinations for rabies and various parasites, and digital microchipping.
Finally, after lengthy bureaucratic delays, arrangements were completed in early November for the wolves to be officially confiscated by the state authorities (although in practice this was not necessary) and transferred to Košice for a flight via Prague to Thessaloniki.
Journey to Greece
On the morning of 15th November, after a last minute decision to try and get the wolves into their travelling crates without risky tranquillisation, a task that was eventually achieved after some coaxing and wrestling, the wolves arrived at Košice airport, accompanied by Robin Rigg of SWS and Tasos Amaslidis, a vet from Arcturos, to ensure the wolves were as comfortable as possible on what would be a demanding journey lasting nearly 24 hours. The story attracted media interest from radio stations and Slovakia's biggest selling daily newspaper, and a gaggle of reporters gathered to see the wolves off to their new home.
On arrival at Thessaloniki they were taken by truck to the sanctuary at Florina. The wolves endured their confinement in the crates well, although Dastin sustained a minor injury to his foot after ripping off the water container from the inside of his crate. They finally arrived at their destination at 4.45 in the morning on 16th November, and were left in their crates in a quiet place to recover until daylight.
Dastin and Dag were then released into separate but adjacent holding pens. Dastin readily emerged from his crate to explore his new surroundings, but Dag took more persuading and was initially shy and nervous. After three days of acclimatisation they were reunited in a larger enclosure; again Dag was more reluctant than Dastin to enter the new surroundings, but once they were both in the enclosure they quickly relaxed and began to explore. After half an hour both wolves had their tails up and were running round the enclosure, seemingly at home in their new Greek sanctuary.
A big thank you to everyone who cared enough to help these two wolves and worked so hard to ensure a happy ending to the story.
According to Nick Grammenopoulos, manager of the Arcturos Environmental Centre in Greece, Dastin and Dag, two wolves that we helped to rehome in 2006, are doing very well in their new environment. They were successfully transferred to the wolf sanctuary in Agrapidia in the winter of 2009-2010. Dastin was moved first and he was the first to get to know their new territory and to meet their new "roommate" Sirios. He immediately felt at home and is very confident and active within the new enclosure. Dag came some weeks later and at first he was very hesitant and a bit scared to go out of the small enclosure used as an artificial den. But he eventually started to explore the new area and the two brothers now seem very happy. Their enclosure is about one hectare in size and is full of trees, bushes and rocks: quite a diffence from the dog kennel and garden that they lived in for four years in eastern Slovakia.
Dag seems to be the leader of this pack: he keeps his tail up, is the first to eat and he behaves with a dominant attitude to the other two. The relationship among the wolves is very good. Dag and Dastin spend a lot of time together and don't mind accepting Sirios near them, too. Sirios is an adult wolf, much more of a loner than the other two, but with a very nice character. All three wolves have now created a new pack, which is known at the sanctuary as Dag's pack. They also have very good relationships with the other wolves that they can see in other parts of the sanctuary, even though they can't have physical contact with them. They spend a lot of time playing with Lyk and Bella, who are in the neighbouring enclosure.
For more information visit the Arcturos website.