How A Lion, Tiger And Bear Became Ride-Or-Die Friends
“Their terrifying early months in life bonded the three together.”
“The BLT (bear, lion, tiger ― as they are known) exhibited signs of being a bonded trio from the moment we saw them when they arrived at Noah’s Ark,” Allison Hedgecoth, curator at Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary where the predators live, told The Huffington Post.
“They were already seeking out one another for comfort and displayed affection by snuggling, grooming and playing with one another,” she said.
Their initial bond wasn’t unusual to Hedgecoth though; what surprised her was their enduring, 15-year friendship.
“Before they reach sexual maturity, a lot of times animals will form unique bonds with members of other species,” she told BBC, explaining that animals typically grow apart as they get older. “What was surprising is how they kept that bond, that family unit well into adulthood.”
The three animals were only a few months old when police found them 15 years ago during a raid in the basement of a drug dealer’s house, according to the sanctuary.
“When they were first brought to the sanctuary, Baloo, Shere Khan and Leo were injured, frightened and clinging to one another for comfort,” Hedgecoth told HuffPost.
Leo, an African lion, had been inside a small crate and suffered from an open, infected wound on his nose. Baloo, an American black bear, was found wearing a harness that he had outgrown so much, it was embedded into his flesh, which had grown over and around it. Shere Khan, a bengal tiger, was severely underweight.
All three of the cubs were scared, malnourished and infected with parasites when the Georgia Department of Natural Resources brought them to Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, a 250-acre nonprofit animal rescue in Locust Grove, Georgia.
The cubs’ living conditions had left them so damaged, the rescuers decided not to release them back into the wild and to keep them at the sanctuary instead, according to The Dodo.
Their friendship was so strong, the sanctuary even chose to keep all three in the same habitat.
Baloo, Leo and Shere Khan have been inseparable ever since.
“Even though they live in a three-acre enclosure, they’re usually within 100 feet of each other,” Hedgecoth told Inside Edition. “That’s proof that they’re not just coexisting or cohabiting, they actually do enjoy each other’s company.”
For sanctuary staffers, the hardest part of watching over different species in the same enclosure is making sure that all their needs are met simultaneously, Hedgecoth told HuffPost. That includes their nutritional, medical and behavioral requirements.
Baloo, she explained, is the dominant, confident and most relaxed one in the group. Leo can sometimes be distant, but is always aware of his surroundings. Shere Khan is curious and always wants to play.
Still, these three predators “live together, sleep together and even eat together as a family,” Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary explains on its Facebook page.
They’re also often photographed cuddling together, especially since Shere Khan is so affectionate, according to the sanctuary.
Luckily, they never really seem to mind.
BLT aren’t the only mismatched orphans that have come into NAAS’s care.
The sanctuary, which cares for over 1,500 animals and runs on donations, once took in a young male tiger and female bear that were raised together and kept them in the same habitat, Hedgecoth told BBC.
However, once the tiger and bear grew to sexual maturity, they stopped spending time together and the sanctuary had to separate the two and group them with their own species.
Baloo, Leo and Shere Khan’s bond is different.
“Their individual personalities as well as their group dynamic has not changed much throughout their 15 years together,” Hedgecoth told HuffPost.
And, after the traumatic first months of their lives, followed by nearly two decades of friendship, it’s clear that BLT has a bond that will last a lifetime.
Below, see how Baloo, Leo and Shere Khan’s friendship continues strong.