Photos Capture Incredible Bond Between Lioness, 2 Men Who Saved Her

The men say they are not concerned with getting so close to Sirga

By Cathy Rainone
|  Wednesday, Nov 6, 2013  |  Updated 12:43 PM EDT
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A 110-pound lioness runs up to two men and hugs them, treating them as if they were long lost family members. Sounds like a scene from a movie? It is not. The real-life, heart-warming reunion was captured in photos that have gone viral.

The lioness in those images is Sirga and the two men are German conservationists who saved her life in Botswana, Africa.

Valentin Gruener, 26, and Mikkel Legarth, 30, met Sirga in February 2012 when she was just a 10-day-old, 4-and-half-pound cub living inside a lion camp at William De Graaffs' Grassland Safari Lodge in Botswana.

She had become an orphan after her two siblings were killed and her mother stopped feeding her milk. Sirga was extremely dehydrated, but after a drip she started drinking again and grew stronger, said Legarth, who along with Gruner are founders of the Modisa Wildlife Project, told NBC News' “Today” show in an email.

Since then, Gruner spent a lot of time with Sirga, who now lives in an enclosure on the Safari Lodge grounds. Legarth didn’t have as big of a role in raising her, as he had to travel to Europe to raise funds for the wildlife conservation effort. But now he’s back in Bostwana and is getting more comfortable with Sirga.

Legarth says the lioness is very friendly, but with Valentin she doesn't have boundaries. The two take her for walks in the bush and Valentin shows her how to hold and kill an animal.

The men say they are not concerned with getting so close to Sirga, but they do recognize the potential dangers of interacting with such a large animal.

“We are not afraid to get too close to her, but of course you can never forget that it is a very strong and potentially dangerous animal and you have to treat it with respect,” Legarth said.

Sirga is not the only animal they work with. They set up a camp on William De Graaffs’ property, where they care for previously rescued lions.

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