By Julia Williams
Stories surface from time to time about unusual friendships between animals of different species. Last year in “True Stories of Interspecies Animal Friendships” I wrote about several such “animal odd couples” that play together, eat together and show affection for one another, including a dog and deer, giraffe and ostrich, and kitten and crow.
I recently learned of the unlikely yet strong bond between three animals that would be mortal enemies under any other circumstance. Although it might seem more like a Disney movie than real life, the tale of a lion, a tiger and a bear who became best friends is true, and very heartwarming.
Leo the lion, Shere Khan the tiger, and Baloo the bear live together at Noah’s Ark Animal Rehabilitation Center in Locust Grove, Georgia. Eight years ago, three tiny cubs barely two months old were rescued during a police drug raid in Atlanta, Georgia. It was thought that the three exotic animals were being kept as status symbol pets. The cubs were taken to Noah’s Ark, where the decision was made to keep the trio together because they came as a kind of family and seemed to have already formed a bond. Whether it would work long term or not was anybody’s guess, because this unlikely animal friendship was one of a kind. “To our knowledge, this is the only place where you’ll find this combination of animals together,” said Diane Smith, assistant director of Noah’s Ark.
It not only worked, it became a beautiful example of how even natural born enemies can become the very best of friends. Leo, Shere Khan and Baloo live in a habitat that was built especially for them, where the public can witness firsthand their incredible relationship. Visitors to Noah’s Ark can watch Baloo, a 1000lb bear, Shere Khan, a 350lb tiger and Leo, also 350lbs, play together like brothers. The three also eat together, sleep together in their sturdy clubhouse, and will often lie on top of each other for heat or simply for affection.
“Surprisingly for three apex predators with the power to kill with a single bite or swipe of their paw, they are very relaxed around each other,” said Noah’s Ark founder Jama Hedgecoth. Baloo and Shere Khan are particularly close, because they rise early and play together while Leo, true to his lion nature, spends part of the day sleeping. “It’s magical to see a giant American Black Bear put his arm around a Bengal, and then to see the tiger nuzzle up to the bear like a domestic cat,” said Diane. When Leo finally wakes up, the three animal pals will mess around for the rest of the day before enjoying a meal together.
Besides this unusual animal trio, Noah’s Ark is home to about 50 different species, including exotics like alligators, baboons, bearded dragons, cougars, lemurs, leopards, marmosets, snakes and wolves, along with domestic animals including chickens, ducks, horses, peacocks and rabbits. The current 250-acre facility opened in 1990 and consists of the animal rehabilitation center, a long-term residential care children’s facility, natural habitats for the animals, and nature trails.
Diane Smith at Noah’s Ark was kind enough to answer a few questions for me:
1. How many animals does Noah’s Ark have? We have about 1,200 animals – the number varies depending on how many wildlife animals we are rehabbing for re-release (we get lots of babies in the spring/summer months).
2. I read that you go through 800 pounds of dry dog food daily. So are there dogs living at Noah’s Ark, or do some of the other animals eat dog food? There are some dogs here (we don’t actively take them, but from time to time special circumstances occur) – and we use dry dog food to supplement many of our animal’s diets.
I didn’t know that exotic animals could be fed dog food, did you? However, the mental image of a lion or leopard chowing down on a big bowl of CANIDAE kibble tickles my funny bone.
3. Your founder, Jama Hedgecoth, obviously loves all animals – but what is her favorite animal, and why? If you ask Jama what her favorite animal is, her answer is always “Whichever one is in the greatest need at this moment.”
4. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your facility? Noah’s Ark is funded solely by donations – we do not receive any state or federal funding. We are open to the public Tuesday-Saturday; the grounds (picnic area, etc.) and Welcome Center are open 9-4, the animal habitats from noon-3:00 p.m.
If you’re ever in Georgia, stop by Noah’s Ark and say hello to Leo, Shere Khan and Baloo!
Read more articles by Julia Williams
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