Sirga the lioness was abandoned by her pride as a young cub and left to fend for herself in the wide wild African bush.
It was extremely lucky for the animal that she was rescued by the owners of the nearby Modisa wildlife sanctuary in Botswana, Africa. Today Sirga is a fully grown feline weighing in at over 110 pounds. She’s a beautiful brute of a lioness in fact.
Sirga with her two rescuers, Valentin and Mikkel
Photograph: Caters News Agency
By rescuing and looking after this cat, the owner of the sanctuary Valentin Gruener has forged an unbreakable bond with Sirga. Both Valentin and his fellow naturalist Mikkel Legarth are treated like fellow lions by Sirga. In return, the men help the Big cat to hunt for food and they get to receive the hugs of this most affectionate feline.
Mikkel, explains: “The pride had three cubs and two were killed before Sirga was abandoned without food. It happened on our land and we couldn’t standby and watch her die.”
“We didn’t want Sirga to become like other lions in captivity, constantly fed by streams of tourists. ”
“She only interacts with me and Valentin. “She hunts her own food, taking antelopes and she will let us be near her when she eats it which is remarkable.
“Sirga doesn’t mind people, but she doesn’t pay them any attention. Wild lions are scared of people, the problem comes if you release a lion that is used to people in the wild, that can cause problems.”
“With Sirga we want to release her to the wild eventually as a wild lion not as one that has met lots of people. That would be dangerous.”
Sirga as a cub
Photograph: Caters News Agency
Valentin and Mikkel are conservationists who live in the real hope of saving the lion population in the Botswana vicinity but as is the case in so many animal environments today, increased farming activity is bringing lions and man into more and more conflict.
The men have begun the Modisa Wildlife Project to work with local farmers to find a way to keep lions and man in their respective domains, so that they can live together in mutual harmony. The plan is to relocate the lions which are coming into contact with farmers to one large protected area where they have enough wild prey to feed on.
Mikkel continues “If you release wild lions somewhere else, they will come straight back to where they were before because there is food there. “And if you just dump a pride of lions in the middle of a new territory they will disturb the prides that are already there. “In Botswana all lions are protected by the government. They are like swans being the property of the Crown in the UK. This also makes moving them a problem.
“What we have now are 10,000-hectare plots with 10 to 15 lions in fenced enclosure, they are wild lions but we do have to feed them. “The first time you walk up to a lion all your body is telling you this is not something you should be doing.”
Christian Sperka was born in Germany in 1962 is a professional photographer and photography teacher based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Over the last 10 years, Christian has traveled the world ( living in Germany, Switzerland and the USA) photographing mainly animals in wild game preserves of South Africa, the jungles of Costa Rica, as well as zoos in Switzerland and across the United States. His work has been featured in wildlife magazines, books and promotional campaigns for Nashville Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo and Zurich Zoo in Switzerland.
In June 2010, Christian opened his Animal Art Photography gallery at the Arcade in Nashville. Since January 2011 he is the Offical Nashville Zoo Photographer and Photography Teacher.
Visit Christian Sperka’s Website to view photographs of animals of all kinds.
Christian was a 35 pound lion cub (and a “gorgeous” cat) when John Rendall and Ace Bourke discovered him in the Harrod’s department store window.
The year was 1969, and Christian had been put up for sale by the store for 250 guineas (or about 280 pounds). The store had acquired the cub from Ilfracombe Zoo as a sales gimmick, but it had all gone wrong when the inquisitive feline escaped from his cage one night to take a sniff at some goat skins on sale in the carpet department. Needless to say he proceeded to wreak havoc…
Cat of the Month ~ July 2012
Christian the treasured friend of Ace and John.
On seeing the lion the two friends were dismayed and convinced they could give the lion a better home. The two purchased the cub and took him to their flat above the trendy ‘Sophistocat’ furniture shop on Kings Road, in the heart of 60’s “Swinging London”.
Christian was a lively, friendly and intelligent cub who slowly built a bond of genuine friendship and trust with John and Ace. He also turned into a local celebrity over the next five months, and produced smiles in all who met him. However the cub was growing fast and in just a few months he became a giant of 185 pounds.
At this point Rendall and Bourke realized they couldn’t keep the Lion much longer. The story has a first amazing twist when a fortuitous chance encounter took place…
One day Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna the stars of the 1966 film Born Free wandered into ‘Sophistocat’ looking for a writing desk. The actors, hearing of the friends plight at this ever growing Lion suggested that conservationist George Adamson be contacted (George’s wife, Joy, wrote the book ‘Born Free’ about real-life experiences in raising a lion cub). So taking the good advice, Christian was soon shipped out to Africa where he was carefully rehabilitated and released into the wild.
The final chapter in the story occurred in 1974, when Rendall and Bourke decided to visit Christian for one last time. They knew he was now a wild animal, so could he be found in the wilds of Kenya….and if they found him would he remember the two surrogate friends? … Adamson told them “it was doubtful that Christian could ever be found…. No one had seen him in nine months”.
The two flew to Kenya anyway, and the amazing coincidence is that on the day they landed, Christian (not seen for those nine months) appeared outside Adamsons camp (perhaps knowing his old pals were coming to see him). He was seen waiting outside the camp until Rendall and Bourke arrived. The reunion of this Lion with his human friends is now a well known story which has been made into a film recounting his journey across the globe, rehabilitation in Africa and eventual return to the wild. The video shown below shows the reunion of Ace and John with Christian.