Zoos can be a great place to see animals from all walks of life. From armadillos all the way to zebras and everything in between, these creatures come from a vast variety of landscapes all around the world. However, there is one animal that is recognizable almost everywhere thanks to its roar, power, and strength.
Yes, we are talking about the mighty lion. In the wild, these big cats are social creatures that are found living in prides. Did you know there have been reports of up to 40 lions all living together? These felines know how to survive thanks to hundreds of years of practice.
The females are the perfect machines to take down prey to feed the rest of the group, but everyone must still bow down to the alphas of the group if they don’t want any trouble. Although these lions once lived all around the world, they are now only found in Africa. So taking a trip to the zoo can be the only chance for many of us to see these felines up close.
However, no one ever thought they would witness a big cat and dog go face to face. Sure, they have been rivals for years, but what were they to do? After all, dachshunds only stand a few inches off the floor – there was no way this pooch was going to be a match for a lion. Everyone was on the edge of their seat to see who would come out victorious.
Earning the crown
Lions have certainly earned their ‘King’ status thanks to their incredible manes, their mighty roars, and even their looming presence in the savannas of Africa. So seeing them in enclosures can put them in a whole new light. For the first time, we can see they aren’t as different to our house cats as we once thought. Who would have believed it? However, they are still unpredictable wild animals with the power to take down any human that stands in their way. There is a reason they are such good hunters. Have you seen those four-inch teeth and one and a half-inch claws? No one could stand in their way, especially not a defenseless dachshund…
When two become one
John Reinke is one of the many fortunate people that gets to work up close and personal with the wild animals in the world. Now, he spends his time helping care for youngsters that have been left without parents. So back when he was offered the chance to take in a tiger cub and baby lion, he couldn’t wait to welcome them into his home. Tony the tiger and Bonedigger the lion quickly became the best of friends. However, it wasn’t long before John noticed some strange behavior. If Tony got carried away while playing with John, Bonedigger would rush to his side and growl at his buddy. Was he trying to protect his new friend?
A lifetime of issues
Bonedigger might have been a young cub, but he had already been through more than most lions do in their entire life. The young cat was born with a metabolic bone disease meaning his bones are more brittle than other cats as well as having little deformities. While it might have been enough to bring many animals down, John knew that it just made Bonedigger even stronger. The young cat had a reason to keep fighting and wasn’t going to let his disability hold him back.
Wrong kind of fall
The young lion wasn’t the only one that was fighting a difficult condition. Back in 1994, John was about to embark on a bungee jump. Little did he know that this adrenaline filled sport was about to change his life. As the animal carer waited on the trapdoor, it suddenly went wrong. John plummeted 55 feet. He was left with both of his feet broken, as well as a hip and his back. Plus, John has also landed on a six-inch metal spike. It looked as though this could be the end.
The doctors thought it was unlikely that John would ever walk again. After five years of rehabilitation, the doctors were forced to give John the news he had been dreading to hear: he was going to have to have both of his legs amputated. The infections were too much for his body to handle. However, it was this operation that opened his eyes. He knew he wanted to help the world, but how? It was then he discovered his passion. He longed to work with animals.
Building a bond
Amazingly, John’s accident brought him closer to Bonedigger than he ever thought. The pair were both coping with their own conditions. It was almost as if the lion knew what this carer was going through. So when Tony would tug on John’s prosthetic legs or bite too hard, Bonedigger was there to protect him. It wasn’t just John doing the protecting. These two were quickly forming a bond that looked set to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, Bonedigger was getting bigger by the day.
Outgrowing their welcome
As the cubs continued to grow, John knew that he was going to have to find bigger accommodation for his feline friends. It was time to take them to their permanent home at the Wynnewood Animal Park in Oklahoma. Tony and Bonedigger might have been too big for the house, but now they would have all the room they needed to thrive. With specially built enclosures, the park was the perfect place for these two cats to start enjoying adult life.
Looking for friends
Unfortunately, Bonedigger wasn’t such a fan of the move. The young lion cub was separated from Tony who would eventually be introduced to the other tigers in the park. Although Bonedigger now had a grassy enclosure all to himself, he wouldn’t settle. Instead, the lion would pace around as he bit the walls of the enclosure. To make things even worse, there were no other lions in the park. It looked as though the cub wouldn’t be getting any friends any time soon…
There was a special group of mascots that roamed freely around the park: a pack of dachshunds. The four puppies would often be seen darting in and out of the guests’ feet as they looked for any scraps of food. Unsurprisingly, their favorite hangout spot was in the cafeteria. However, they also liked to taunt the parrots in the aviary when they were full. The leader of the group was a puppy named Abby. She was small, but Abby was also mighty.
Making new friends
The dogs not only loved keeping the guests entertained, but they enjoyed going to see all the animals in the park, too. One of their favorite hobbies is enjoying the sun outside the various enclosures. So when Bonedigger arrived, the dachshunds were quick to welcome their latest friend. The dogs were used to big cats thanks to the many tigers that lived in the park already. However, Bonedigger wasn’t used to having all this attention. Perhaps it was all too much for the young cub?
Thinking on his feet
Joe Exotic is one of the leading keepers at the park and has been there since the very beginning back in 1999. Now, Joe has over 32 years experience working with wild animals but specifies in caring for lions and tigers. As if that wasn’t enough, he has also successfully crossbred many of the big cats to create new species that could be their only chance of survival. He was determined to help Bonedigger feel comfortable in his new home. It was then Joe came up with a plan…
A brave move
There was one animal that could help: Abby. Joe ran to find the dachshund and put her on a leash. The pair entered Bonedigger’s enclosure while another keeper held the lion. What was Joe doing? Had he gone mad? No, this keeper had been watching the dog for days; he knew this would be the start of something incredible. Unfortunately, Bonedigger pulled away from the keeper. Only, he wasn’t trying to attack the pooch – he was terrified!
Friends at first sight?
Joe shouted for the keeper to let go of Bonedigger. The lion needed to be brave and decide if he would take to his new friend on his own. Although Abby was on a leash, she began to jump around the enclosure. In fact, the dog was even wagging her tail in the air and trying to get the lion to play. How would Bonedigger react? He stepped back, used all his strength, and let out an almighty roar – or squeak. It was time for Abby to leave, and fast.
Putting on his brave pants
Their first meeting might not have gone to plan, but Joe was determined to get Bonedigger and Abby to become the best of friends. They just had to get along. Once again, Abby started to jump around as she tried to get the lion to play. This time it looked as though Bonedigger was getting braver. He stalked over to the dog. As he got closer, Bonedigger began to slow down until he was almost touching Abby. Slowly, he began to sniff her fur.
Seal of approval
Although Bonedigger might have been worried about his new friend, Abby couldn’t wait to be let loose in the enclosure. It was all one big game for the dachshund. She tore around the grass as she took in all the sights and sounds on the other side of the cage. The keepers had laid out Bonedigger’s favorite toys and blanket to help him feel at home. However, Abby had found the stash. The lion ran over to keep his collection safe, but no one could believe Abby’s reaction. She licked him on the nose!
Time to move
The keepers decided the best thing to do was to leave the dog and lion to settle. They kept checking, and it looked as though Joe’s plan had worked! After getting to know each other, the zoo decided the friends deserved an upgrade. Bonedigger and Abby were moved to a much larger enclosure with his and hers beds as well as a viewing platform so they could look out over the rest of the park. There was just one issue – Abby kept bossing around her new pal.
Start of a new pride
Perhaps there was even more hope of growing Bonedigger’s pride? It wasn’t the conventional answer, but Joe knew the lion needed to socialize if he had any hopes of developing into a healthy adult lion. The rest of the weiner dogs, Bullet, Angel, and Milo, were scooped up and brought to the enclosure. However, Abby was able to survive thanks to her bossiness. Would Bonedigger accept the new arrivals? Thankfully, he took them in as part of their misfit pride.
Dinner time shenanigans
As the keepers stood back and watched the five new friends learn to get along, they knew it was time to try feeding them all together. The dogs were fed kibble on one side of the enclosure while Bonedigger was given his raw meat on the other. However, Abby had a plan. She started barking and running across the grass. What had happened? Bonedigger rushed to his friend’s side to see if he could help. Only, Abby was really trying to lure him away from the meat so she could steal a steak! Amazingly, her lion biddy didn’t seem to mind sharing.
Can’t bear to be apart
Bonedigger and Abby don’t just play together, but they also love to groom ticks and fleas off each other’s fur as well as clean out their friend’s teeth. However, when it comes to clean up time, the dogs have to be moved as they enjoy chasing the grass cutters. Whenever the dogs are gone, Bonedigger sits and waits for them to return. Thankfully, the group is always reunited at the end where it’s smooches all around for the group.
Learning their ways
Now, the group still live as their misfit pride and won’t be separated anytime soon! Plus, Abby and Bonedigger are still the closest of the group after growing up together for years. As if that wasn’t enough, they have also taught each other a few skills over the years. Bonedigger has learned how to read Abby’s body language, while the dachshund can growl and make the noises of her lion friend. Who needs conventional friends anyway? These two certainly don’t!
Other unlikely friends
Abby and Bonedigger are not the only unusual friends in the animal kingdom. In fact, they are a lot more common than you might think. A prime example of a cute combo is that of a lion, a tiger, and a bear (oh my!) Though they were not friends, but in fact enemies, in the film Jungle Book, Shere Khan the tiger and Baloo the bear were the best of buds in real life. Together with their friend Leo the lion, they made an adorable throuple in Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Georgia.
Best friends for life
Baloo, Shere Khan, and Leo were brought to Noah’s Ark in 2001 after being rescued as young cubs from the basement of an abusive criminal who was mistreating them. These little guys were all suffering from various ailments and needed immediate medical attention. They struggled together throughout their lives and therefore have developed a strong bond and friendship over the years. The three best friends were inseparable and made an unlikely trio of American black bear, Bengal tiger, and African lion.
The condition of the cubs
Their remarkable story of friendship is only after years of abuse. The three were discovered during a police raid and the person who was housing them had not taken care to their needs. The tiger, Shere Khan, was malnourished and underweight, the lion, Leo, had an untreated open wound on his nose, and Baloo was found with a harness that had caused a skin infection because it was not loosened as he grew bigger. After much care, the cubs were brought back to health.
Their friendship over time
The group of friends are known by visitors and volunteers of Noah’s Ark as BLT (Bear, Lion, Tiger) and were never apart. They played together, slept together, and were frequently seen giving each other kisses. Those at the sanctuary have looked after the majestic animals since their arrival, and have watched them grow into the gorgeous creatures following their rescue. Unfortunately, in 2016 Leo succumbed to illness, and passed away. His two best friends said goodbye to him, after 15 years of mutual living.
Noah’s Ark Sanctuary
BLT might be the most famous story and the three most popular animals to come from Noah’s Ark, but the rescue actually houses over 1,500 animals from about 100 various species. They take animals that have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and give them a permanent home where they can feel safe and protected. There are stories just like Leo, Shere Khan, and Baloo, as well as Abby and Bonedigger all over and Noah’s Ark helps keep animals such as them out of harm’s way.
The difference between a sanctuary and a zoo
There are some major differences between a sanctuary and a zoo. A zoo is out to make a profit and while their animals are just as cute and cuddly, a sanctuary wants to make a difference and protect the lives of the furry friends. There is also a difference in the way they obtain the animals. Most likely, zoos buy, trade, or breed their animals for the purpose of entertainment, while sanctuaries bring animals who need permanent homes because they can’t make it in the wild on their own.
Other people like John Reinke
John Reinke is not the only one rescuing and befriending lion cubs. South African Frikkie Von Solms has been best friends with Zion the lion for nearly 15 years. The beast of a mammal was separated from his mother and father as a cub and probably would not have survived if not for Vom Solms. He raised Zion as if he was his own son and the two formed a special bond over the years, proving that man and animal do not always need to be fearful of each other.
Zion the Lion
Zion is a friendly giant who has never put any humans in danger or come close to an attack. Instead, he had grown to appreciate and respect them, probably because they are the only real family he has ever known. Vom Solms and Zion have a friendship built on mutual trust and they pretty much do everything together from walks to sleeping. The animal rescuer has raised over 19 other lions, but Zion is the one he has the best connection with.
Animals rescuing humans
While humans protecting animals are probably much more common and well-known, there are also wild animals who have stepped in to save the day for people. One incredible instance of this was back in 2005 when three lions rescued a girl from a kidnapping in Ethiopia. The 12-year-old was a student on her way home from school when four men snatched her and headed away in the rural southwest of the African country.
Lions save the day
What the kidnappers did not expect was three lions to approach and chase them away. After they ran off, the lions stood guard until police could reach the girl and get her to safety. Animal experts say that the most likely reason the lions did not attack her was because her cries were similar to that of a cub and they felt the instinct to protect. This miraculous example of lions coming to the rescue of humans proves once again that peaceful coexistence can occur between animals of all kinds.