The lioness who hugs hoodies: Amazing pictures of abandoned big cat and her heartwarming bond with men who saved her
This is enough to warm even the wildest of hearts.
Deep in the African bush a lioness gives giant hug to the two men who saved her.
As a cub, Sirga was driven out of her pride and rescued by Valentin Gruener and Mikkel Legarth who could not stand by and watch her die.
Now the 110lb lioness has developed an incredible bond with the pair who are fighting to save her species in Botswana, southern Africa.
German conservationist Valentin Gruener and Sirga showing the incredible bond between man and beast
Heart-warming: Mikkel Legarth giving the lioness Sirga a hug in the wilds of Botswana
Sirga treats the two conservationists just like she would other lions and with their help she can now hunt for prey on her own.
She is now a beacon for hoped success of the Modisa Wildlife Project, founded in Botswana, Africa, by Mr Gruener, from Germany, and Mr Legarth, who is Danish, with the hope of saving the lion population.
Botswana is two and a half times the size of Britain and has vast areas of wilderness – but already increased farming is bringing lions and man into more and more conflict.
From a base camp in the African bush the Modisa Wildlife Project has been working with local farmers and Willie De Graaff, owner of Grassland Safari Lodge, to find a way long term solution.
The plan is to relocate the lions which are coming into contact with farmers to one large protected area where they have enough wild prey to feed on.
As these amazing shots show Mikkel and Valentin has an incredible affinity for the lions they rescue and not just Sirga.
Mr Legarth (nearest camera) and Mr Gruener enjoying the evening sunset with Sirga
Sirga when she was a lioness cub playing with Mr Legarth after she was rescued
Sirga treats the two men just like she would other lions and with their help she can now hunt for prey on her own
Their work has now been documented by photographer Nicolai Frederik Bonnin Rossen who himself got up-close-and-personal with the magnificent predators
Mr Legarth, 30, said his bond with Sirga was just like as if she was part of his pride.
He said: ‘A pride had three cubs and two were killed before Sirga was abandoned without food. It happened on our land and we could not standby and watch her die.
The pair’s work has been documented by photographer Nicolai Frederik Bonnin Rossen who himself got up-close-and-personal with the magnificent predators
Saved: As a cub Sirga was driven out from a pride and rescued by the German and Danish duo
Touching: Mr Legarth playing with Sirga the lioness as the sun goes down in the bush
‘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.
‘She hunts her own food, taking antelopes and she will let us be near her when she eats it which is remarkable.
‘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.
Mr Legarth said: ‘The first time you walk up to a lion all your body is telling you this is not something you should be doing’
Close: The amazing pictures show Sirga – a 110lb lioness – cuddling her new found friends
The Modisa Wildlife Project aims at removing lions from areas where they face certain death after coming into conflict with farmers
‘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.’
The Modisa Wildlife Project aims at removing lions from areas where they face certain death after coming into conflict with farmers.
Mr Legarth added: ‘If you release wild lions somewhere else, they will come straight back to where they were before because there is food there.
The pair with some of the lions from the project in Botswana, southern Africa
Sirga – a 110lb lioness – and her adopted pride Valentin Gruener and Mikkel Legarth
‘And if you just dump a pride of lions in the middle of a new territory they will disturb the prides that are already there.
‘In Botswana all lions are protected by the government – like swans being the property of the Crown in the UK. This also makes moving them a problem.
‘What we have now are 10,000-hectare plots with 10 to 15 lions in fenced enclosure, they are wild lions but we do have to feed them.
‘The first time you walk up to a lion all your body is telling you this is not something you should be doing.’
Mr Legarth added: ‘We are located on Willie De Graaff’s 10,000-hectare farm with lions, wild dogs and leopards that has been saved from certain death. We are now looking for sponsors that can support us with a long-term solution for those animals.’