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Female Lion Cub Separated From Her Pride Is Taken In By An Unlikely New Family

In the wild, it’s every animal for themselves. And while we love to romanticize the tales that come from habitats like the jungle and the desert (hello, The Lion King!), we shouldn’t forget that these places aren’t just exciting for our furry friends—they’re extremely dangerous.
For instance, young animals in the wild immediately learn that they’ll have to stay strong—and stick with their families—if they want to survive. Looking cute might be a perk in the human world, but that definitely won’t ensure your survival in the animal kingdom.
So when one adorable lion cub grew ill, it was no surprise that her pride left her to fend for herself. A sickly cub would only slow down the pride, and they couldn’t risk that. How would the cub survive without her family?
In February of 2012, a dying female lion cub was discovered on the outskirts of a farm in Botswana. She was starving and could barely move, so her rescuers knew they had to act quickly if they wanted to bring her back from the brink of death.

Her rescuers named the young cub Sirga, and they were hopeful that she would be able to hang on with their tender love and care. Sirga’s story was an unspeakable one. For a cub so young, she’d endured a tremendous amount already…


Sirga was one of three young cubs born to her Botswana-based pride. When the two other cubs passed away and Sirga’s own health began to fail, the pride decided to leave her to fend for herself. Without the protection from her pride, Sirga’s fate seemed bleak…
  

Conservationist Valentin Gruener led the team that found Sirga. He spearheaded a campaign to bring the young cub back to his headquarters and treat her for malnutrition and exposure to the elements.


As the cofounder of the Modisa Wildlife Project in Kalahari, Botswana, Valentin felt it was his duty to help save the life of this desperate cub. Working with a local veterinarian, they decided Sirga—who weighed just four pounds—needed an IV drip to help rehydrate her.

Valentin and the veterinarian hoped that the IV treatment and a special diet of fresh eggs, cream, milk, vitamins, sunflower oil, and calcium would help with the hard work of nursing Sirga back to health. Still, they weren’t sure what the outcome would be.

To everyone’s surprise, Sirga didn’t just survive—the tiny cub began to grow and thrive! People at the headquarters couldn’t believe it. “To this day we believe she is probably the most spoiled and well-fed lion in Botswana,” Valentin said with a smile.


After about a year of special care, Sirga had put on 170 pounds! Valentin and his team decided it was time to take her off of her special diet and get her acclimated to the raw meat diet that she would enjoy if she were living in the wild…

Because she had been abandoned by her own pride, Sirga viewed Valentin and the others at headquarters as her real family. However, at three years old, Sirga was becoming large enough that Valentin and his staff couldn’t play with her the same way they did when she was younger and smaller…


Eventually Valentin became the only person who could manage Sirga’s playful spirit. It made sense: since he had rescued her from death and had been with her every step of the way, she considered him as her surrogate father.

She might have been bigger than Valentin, but that didn’t stop her from resting her head in his lap to fall asleep or flinging herself into his arms for a hug. She treated him with the same affection that human children give to their parents!

For Valentin, Sirga was like his daughter, and just like any other parent, he faced a lot of challenges when it came to dealing with his three-year-old—including some that would even make the parents of human toddlers quake in their boots!


Valentin and the other conservationists worked overtime to help put some of that toddler energy to good use by helping Sirga learn the skills that she would need in order to survive in the wild.

What started off as a way to help keep Sirga occupied throughout the day became a mission. Valentin knew that the right thing for Sirga was to help prepare her for her eventual return to the desert where she truly belonged.

One of the most important skills Sirga needed was how to hunt. Believe it or not, hunting isn’t a natural instinct in lions. It’s something they learn from older members of the pride, which meant that Valentin had to learn how to hunt, too!

It was slow going at first, but eventually Sirga began to pick up the vital skill. This was a tremendous relief to Valentin, who knew that once she returned to the wild, it would be “kill or be killed” for the lioness.

“We didn’t want Sirga to become like other lions in captivity, constantly fed by streams of tourists,” said Valentin. “She hunts her own food, taking antelopes, and she will let us be near her when she eats it, which is remarkable.”


For this reason, Valentin and his team worked hard to make sure that Sirga wasn’t too domesticated. “We want to release her eventually as a wild lion, not as one who has met lots of people. That would be dangerous. She only interacts with us,” said Valentin.

Filmmaker Jurgen Jozefowicz eventually heard about Valentin and Sirga’s story. He was so inspired that he started work on a six-part series about their bond called Lionheart. If all went according to plan, the movie would also feature Sirga’s release and the undoubtedly difficult goodbye from Valentin.

Sirga’s entire life with Valentin has been about preparing for her eventual return to the wild. However, that didn’t mean it would be easy for either her or Valentin to say goodbye to each other. The bond they shared was truly one-of-a-kind!

Sirga owes her entire life to Valentin, and she’s super important to him, too. Thank goodness they were able to find each other. It seems like it did them both a world of good!
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