If petting a domestic cat is nice, imagine hugging a friendly tiger, puma, or a lion! Sadly, such a dream is far too dangerous—but not for everyone.
Meet Valentin Gruener, a man who hugs, pets, and looks after a fully-grown lioness. He rescued her when she was a little cub, abandoned by her pride. The man cared for her, fed her, and taught her how to hunt. But when she grew up, it was time to let go.
Gruener and his friend, Mikkel Legarth, found a little lion cub close to death on a farm in Botswana, in February 2012. Three cubs were born to a pride of lions, and after two of the babies died, the third was abandoned by the adults in the pride.
“A pride had three cubs and two were killed before Sirga was abandoned without food. It happened on our land and we could not stand by and watch her die,” Legarth said, according to Daily Mail.
He took the tiny lion, weighing just 4 pounds (1.8 kg), and helped her combat dehydration. He fed her with a mixture of fresh eggs, cream, milk, vitamins, and sunflower oil. Within a year, she put on 175 pounds (79.4 kg) and started to eat raw meat. He named her Sirga.
Sirga treats Gruener and Legarth as members of her pride. She is always happy to see them. She always hugs Gruener and cuddles him.
But when she uses too much of her power, Gruener tells her to calm. “I do not believe she will ever turn on me and I have never been worried,” Gruener said, according to Express. “We trust each other completely and if I tell her to back off she listens.”
The two conservationists wanted to help Sirga return to the wild and have been teaching her how to hunt. “We didn’t want Sirga to become like other lions in captivity, constantly fed by streams of tourists. She only interacts with me and Valentin,” said Legarth.
“She hunts her own food, taking antelopes, and she will let us be near her when she eats it, which is remarkable,” Legarth added.
“Sirga doesn’t mind people, but she doesn’t pay them any attention. Wild lions are scared of people, the problem comes if you release a lion that is used to people in the wild, that can cause problems. With Sirga we want to release her to the wild eventually as a wild lion not as one that has met lots of people. That would be dangerous,” he said.
After long, painstaking efforts from Gruener and Legarth, they are now managing to set Sirga free and found a new area for her in Botswana.
The area is a nature reserve, large enough for Sirga to hunt her own food and live free, but small enough for them to be nearby and look after her in case she needs them.
It was a source of great joy for the two conservationists as they cared for the lion from when she was a cub.
This great story was documented in a film “Saving Sirga: Journey into the heart of a lion.”