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The rescue of Dastin and Dag

In Spring 2002 in the Stolické vrchy mountains, near Dobšina in eastern Slovakia, Jaroslav Molčan, a miner and hunter, found a litter of 4 wolf pups, their eyes still closed, in the forest. Only two were still alive. Their mother was probably the victim of illegal poaching, which is not uncommon in Slovakia. At first the Mr Molčan thought they were dog puppies, and took them home and cared for them with his wife, feeding them on goats milk. As they grew, Mr and Mrs Molčan 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. However, as no suitable facility existed to take the pups, they were not confiscated.

Dastin and Dag in their cage - Photo R. Rigg

Mr Molčan 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, well; taking them for walks and paying for veterinary treatment. The wolves made no attempt to hunt any wild animals when out for walks, but did kill chickens in the village. When let off their leashes when out for walks and they would always come back, although on at least one occasion one or other of them did not return for several hours. There were some problems - on one occasion at home Mr Molčan’s son was bitten, and the wolves threatened several people, particularly seeming to dislike people who had consumed alcohol. They were however friendly with most visitors and were often released from the cage into the garden. 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 Molčans 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.

In early 2006, Wolves and Humans was asked to help try and find a new home for the two wolves. Finding home 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. Together with the Slovak Wildlife Society, who alerted us to the wolves’ plight, and the Born Free Foundation, we contacted a number of zoos, facilities and organisations, both in the UK and abroad, to try and find a suitable home, but disappointingly, none 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; part of the Arcturos Environmental Centre which also includes a bear sanctuary, information centre and a livestock guarding dog breeding station.

Dastin and Dag in crates on the way to the airport - Photo R. Rigg

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, Robin Rigg of the Slovak Wildlife Society began 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.

On the morning of 15th November, after a last minute decision by the Molcans and an official from the District Environment Office 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 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 Dustin 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 Dustin to enter the new surroundings, but once they were both in the enclosure they both 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, thanks to everyone who cared enough to try to help these two wolves and worked so hard to ensure a happy ending to the story.