The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : A Man Rescued and Raised a Lion Cub in a Wildlife Park: Each Time They Meet the Lion Holds Him in an Affectionate Embrace

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Man Rescued and Raised a Lion Cub in a Wildlife Park: Each Time They Meet the Lion Holds Him in an Affectionate Embrace

Valentin Gruener, rescued a young lion cub In 2012.  He raised him at a wildlife park in Botswana. Little did he know that this would be the start of an extraordinary relationship. Now an astonishing scene is repeated each time they meet - the young lion leaps on Gruener, and holds him in an affectionate embrace.

The lion cub, Sirga, was rescued from a holding pen established by a farmer, who was tired of shooting animals that preyed on his cattle.

"The lions had already killed two of the three cubs inside the cage. And the mother abandoned the remaining cub. She was very tiny, maybe about 10 days old," said Gruener.

The farmer, Willy de Graaf, asked Gruener to try to save her.  He agreed and took her to a wildlife park, financed by de Graaf and became her adoptive mother, "feeding her and taking care of her".

"You have this tiny cute animal sitting there and it's already quite feisty," he says. "It will become about 10 times that size and you will have to deal with it."

She's much bigger now, and when Gruener opens her cage, she still rushes to greet him,- ecstatically throwing her paws around his neck.

"This happens every time I open the door. It is an amazing, and happens every time we meet.  It's such a passionate thing for this animal to jump and give me a hug," says Gruener.

"But I guess it makes sense. At the moment she has no other lions with her in the cage and I guess for her I'm like her species. So I'm the only friend she's got. Lions are social cats so she's always happy to see me."

They spend their time hanging out in the Botswana bush, doing the kind of things that cats enjoy, such as lying around under trees, play-fighting, and hunting.

"I don't believe we have to teach the lion to hunt. They have this instinct like a domestic cat or even a dog that will try to hunt. Any cat will catch a bird or a mouse. The lion will catch an antelope when it gets big enough," said Gruener.

"I'm definitely giving her that opportunity to hunt, about three times a week at the moment. Each walk takes five hours - sometimes up to nine. We sort of hunt together and I'm helping to show her how to kill something rather than catch it."

After Sirga's first kill, Gruener wasn't sure if it would still be safe for him to get close to the lion. But "she let me come in", he says.

"It's a bit cruel because she will catch an antelope and hold it down, and when it gets tired she could simply go and bite it in the throat and kill it. But because it's so exciting she's like a cat that keeps on playing with the mouse.

"It's not so lovely to watch when a lion has an antelope in front of her and she's having fun playing with this antelope."

Willy de Graaf has given Gruener two miles or land to create a "miniature park" where Sirga can roam freely, but she will not be released into the wild. Not because she could not survive, Gruener says, but because she has lost her fear of humans.

Under those circumstances she is likely to get too close to humans, and if there is an accident she will end up getting shot. "And that's not really the whole point of raising a lion," said Gruener.

In the park Sirga can live like a wild lion, but remain safe, he says. "That's the plan for her future."

And what of his own future? Gruener has put aside work on a PhD while he has been raising Sirga, and has hardly ever left her alone.

"If she gets into a bigger enclosure with gets more space, then maybe I can get another lion to give her companionship. Then I would be able to leave her for longer periods of time, and I can finish my studies.

"But as long as she needs me, and as long as I feel I want to be there, she I will be my priority.

"I doubt anything will change much between me and her."



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