Rescuers opened a dark, concrete pen and were shocked when they saw two male lion cubs staring at them with wide, frightened eyes. The pups were orphaned because a short time before, poachers had killed their mom in Ethiopia. The poachers then took the cubs, now named Rea and Girma, were planning to sell them as exotic pets in the illegal wildlife market. Luckily, Ethiopian police officers caught the traffickers in time and took custody of Rea and Girma.
At the time, police had nowhere suitable to keep two baby lion cubs, so the cubs stayed where they were for many weeks.
“This was temporary housing as [the] Ethiopia Wildlife Conservation Authority was looking for a suitable, permanent solution for them, and they were being cared for to the best of the abilities and resources available to the police, government and military officials,” Maggie Balaskas, animal rescue and care manager at Born Free Foundation said.
Wildlife officials then called the Born Free Foundation and asked if they could take the cubs, an adult male lion and two cheetahs the police had also confiscated from wildlife traders. The team at Born Free Foundation agreed and transported all of the animals to Ensessa Koteh, an animal rescue and educational center run by Born Free Foundation near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The poor cubs should have still been with their mom, so they were scared. When the rescue team first opened the door of their concrete pen, they cowered and clung to each other.
“They were very nervous and huddled close together for comfort in the corner,” Balaskas said.
Things quickly improved for Rea and Girma at the rescue center and were placed in a spacious pen together that had shady acacia trees, thick undergrowth, and sandy soil, as well as plenty of space to run around in.
“It wasn’t long before the cubs started to explore their new surroundings, gradually becoming braver and more settled in the new environment,” Balaskas said.
That was two years ago. Today Rea and Girma are 2 years old, and they’ve come a long way since their days in the military compound.
“They both have a lot of character and are active and playful,” Balaskas said. “They like to hide amongst the undergrowth and creep up on one another. We hope their bond will remain strong as they grow up.”
“They remain together, in the same spacious enclosure,” Balaskas added. “Rea and Girma are continuing to grow larger — Rea was the smaller of the two and slightly slower to develop than Girma. Later this year, we plan to move them to a new, larger enclosure, once it is complete.”
Over 200 animals call Ensessa Koteh home and, like Rea and Girma. Many of them have been confiscated from the wildlife trade, while others were found injured or orphaned.
Unfortunately, many of the animals can’t be returned to the wild, either because they’re too sick, or because they’ve grown too accustomed to people to survive. In Rea and Girma’s case, they never learned how to fend for themselves in the wild, and they would not be able to survive on their own. They have lost their fear of people, which would have made them vulnerable to poachers and wildlife smugglers in the wild.
“Born Free feels incredibly lucky that we were able to help Rea and Girma by providing them with a lifetime home,” Balaskas said. “Knowing Rea and Girma, who had a terrible start in life, have a new start at Ensessa Kotteh was such a relief for the team.”
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