A Baby Elephant Abandoned By Its Herd Was Rescued By The Most Unexpected Source

Animals that travel in herds act as families. If one of them falls behind, they all fall behind to ensure the safety of the individual and the pack. Elephants come together to form some of the world’s most majestic herds, and will do anything to maintain their numbers. Sometimes, though, there is seemingly nothing that can be done in times of trouble. If one member falls behind and gets stuck, then the needs of the many to keep moving outweigh the needs of the one. That’s what almost happened to this helpless baby elephant when he was abandoned by his herd. Can you guess who, or what, unexpectedly saved this abandoned baby elephant and returned him safely to his herd?

It All Started At The Pool

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STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/Getty Images
STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/Getty Images

For this baby elephant, his day had started just like any other. He lived with his family on the Addo Wildlife Sanctuary in Africa. The herd had stopped at a natural pool to bathe and drink water. It was a perfect day.

The baby elephant began to play when suddenly everything went wrong. Usually, getting a little muddy pond is a good way to cool down in the African heat. But today, he started to sink into the slippery banks of the pool, and when he tried to get out, he became stuck.

One Big Push

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YouTube
YouTube

No matter how much this baby elephant struggled, he couldn’t free himself of the mud’s grasp. As the herd prepared to keep moving, they realized there was a problem. As we’ve said, herds stick together, and this one was no different.

The adult elephants attempted to push the young one free, but no matter how hard they tried, nothing helped. Zero progress was made. The baby elephant wasn’t sinking any deeper, but he wasn’t gaining any ground either.

Every Elephant As One

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YouTube
YouTube

So far, only a few adult elephants had tried to free the baby. With no progress made, they started calling out to the rest of the herd. Now, with all their power combined, surely they could save their young.

Sadly, the baby remained stuck. He was in serious trouble and hope was starting to fade. It didn’t help that in the distance something else heard the elephant’s desperate cries. It was moving fast towards the herd, but what exactly was it?

Defensive Positions

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Will Burrard-Lucas/WWF/Barcroft / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Will Burrard-Lucas/WWF/Barcroft / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

On the horizon, a Jeep appeared. It sped toward the scene, but was it full of friends or enemies? The herd didn’t have time to figure it out, and surrounded the baby to protect it.

The men drove the Jeep around the elephants, trying to break up the herd and figure out what was happening, but the animals refused to move. They were ready to do anything to protect one of their most precious members.

An Audience Appears

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YouTube

As the war of attrition between the elephants and the men in the Jeep continued, a group of tourists began watching. They had seen the elephants earlier, and decided to keep their distance to be safe.

Now they were witnessing an incredible story with an unpredictable ending. They knew it would be too dangerous to intervene, but couldn’t turn their eyes away from the harrowing scene. Little did they know they would play a vital role later in our story.

It’s Now Or Never

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Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images
Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

What seemed like hours passed while the people in the Jeep and the elephants faced off. Exhausted, the younger members of the herd began to flee, choosing their own safety over the baby’s. This forced the mature elephants to make a difficult decision.

Would they abandon the baby elephant and join the fleeing members of the herd? The baby was still hopelessly trapped and running out of energy. The Jeep wasn’t running out of gas, though, and whoever was driving was determined to break up the herd to see what they were hiding.

Abandoned By The Herd

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Greg Du Toit / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Greg Du Toit / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Forced to make a decision, the older elephants chose to abandon the baby and keep the majority of the herd together. The men in the Jeep had won, but what were their intentions?

In the eyes of the poor baby elephant, their intentions didn’t matter. He was left alone to fend for himself. He became frantic and desperately tried to free himself. The Jeep moved closer. A confrontation was looming, and soon enough the truth about who these men were would be revealed.

A Helping Hand

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YouTube

The good news was the men in the Jeep weren’t there to harm the baby elephant. They were actually rangers at the sanctuary who had heard the animal’s cries for help. Unfortunately, the only way they could assistance was to get the herd to abandon their baby.

Now that it was their rescue mission, the rangers needed a plan. If the strength of an entire herd of elephants wasn’t enough to free the baby, what could they possibly do to help?

Several Plans Failed

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Tony Margiocchi / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Tony Margiocchi / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The rangers tried the simplest rescue plan first. One of them got into the water and tried to dig out the mud around the baby elephant’s legs. As thick as the mud was, however, this proved impossible.

Next, they tied a rope to the elephant’s legs and tried to pull him out. While this could have worked, the young animal was still too heavy to be moved. Then, on the verge of giving up, the baby elephant miraculously began to free itself.

Finding The Herd

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YouTube

The baby elephant, after hours of struggling, was finally able to free itself. Everyone was ecstatic. The rescue mission was a success. Then it dawned on everyone: there was still one problem. Where did the herd go?

The rangers knew they couldn’t leave the baby alone while they searched for the herd. Their best option was to tie the elephant up, essentially trapping it for a second time, while they went off to find its family.

The Most Humane Thing To Do

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YouTube

It might sound cruel that the rangers chose to tie the baby elephant up, but it was actually the safest and most humane action to take. They needed to find the herd, and couldn’t take the chance the baby would run off on its own or attack one of them.

Remember, while these elephants were safe in the Addo Wildlife Sanctuary, they were still wild animals. And this elephant in-particularly had just been through a traumatic experience. It wasn’t an easy decision for the rangers to make, but they knew it was the right one.

An Unhappy Baby

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DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

As you could probably guess, the baby elephant was very happy with being tied up moments after being freed. He lashed out and used all his remaining strength to try and break his bonds.

If he was older and bigger, he probably would have been strong enough. Today, however, size mattered. Try as he might, he wasn’t going anywhere. His fate was now in the hands of the rangers, even though he didn’t trust them yet.

Time Was Running Out For A Reunion

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Tessa Chan/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Tessa Chan/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

This was easily the worst day this baby elephant had ever experienced. And if the rangers didn’t reunite him with is herd soon, it would only get worse. Elephants, like humans, can suffer from PTSD, and this poor animal was a prime candidate.

According to trans-species psychologist Gay Bradshaw, "You have sustained psychological trauma, (but without) any of the traditional healing structures of the elephant family and culture." All this baby had was the rangers who had saved him. Realizing there was nothing he could do, he finally calmed down.

Humans And Elephants Share The Same Emotions

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YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images
YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

Part of the reason elephants can be affected so profoundly by trauma is because they experience emotions similarly to humans. As Bradshaw puts it, "elephants and humans really share the same processes that govern emotion, cognition, and consciousness."

We don’t know if the rangers were aware of this, but that didn’t change the urgency of the situation. Night was coming, and the last thing they could handle would be watching over the baby all night. Of course, they would if it was necessary.

Gaining Trust

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YouTube

The next big step for the rangers in their reunion mission was to gain the baby elephant’s trust. After so much time struggling in the African heat, they realized the baby was probably dehydrated.

One of the rangers grabbed a mini pool and filled it with water. When it was close enough to the elephant, he reacted instantly. Without hesitation, the baby elephant’s trunk was in the water and he was drinking with glee. For the moment, a truce had been reached between the rangers and the animal.

Back To Basics

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Greg Du Toit / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Greg Du Toit / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

With water at his disposal, the baby elephant was finally able to take care of himself. Not only did he drink until he was no longer thirsty, he also sprayed himself cool and clean.

The cold water on his back was the perfect way to fend off the heat of the sun. Now that his mood was better, one of the rangers was even able to get a closer look at him. It was vital to make sure this elephant was healthy after the stress-filled day.

Happiness Is Fleeting

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YouTube

For the moment, everything seemed calm. The baby elephant was drinking, splashing, and bathing himself. The rangers were overwhelmed with relief, even if the job wasn’t done. As the day continued to pass, they noticed that anytime the baby elephant heard a noise, he looked around.

The baby elephant might have been healthy, but it became clear he wasn’t happy. He missed his family. Every noise could be them calling out for him. It’s possible that even though the rangers ran them off that they were still looking for him.

The Right Sound

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YouTube

Amazingly, the next sound the baby elephant heard was the one he’d been waiting for all day. His herd was calling for him. He once again tried to break free of the ropes that kept him trapped.

The herd was close, but it still would have been too dangerous or the rangers to let the baby loose to find them himself. Soon the baby elephant would be reunited with his family, leaving our story with the happiest ending. First, though, they still needed to find where the herd call was coming from.

An Inside Tip

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Will Burrard-Lucas/WWF/Barcroft / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Will Burrard-Lucas/WWF/Barcroft / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Remember how we told you there were tourists watching everything happen? They knew where the baby elephants herd was, and tipped the rangers off to their location. It turns out, they were back near the watering hole right where the hole misadventure began.

With a location in mind, it was now up to the rangers to lead the baby back to its herd. Again, they wanted to keep it safe, and going along this journey with it was the only way to ensure that.

A Family Reunion

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YouTube

With the baby elephant in tow, rangers led him to the location the tourists had hinted at. As soon as the youngster was close enough to see his herd he called out them and ran toward them.

The herd reacted with the same excitement! For everyone involved, what had started as a disaster turned into a harrowing rescue mission and heartwarming reunion. For the rangers, it was just another day on the job. For the elephants, it was life altering and unexpected kindness at its finest.

Rescuing Sheila

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Sheila was one of the lions rescued by the U.S Department of Agriculture in July 2009. A lot of the lions rescued that year were in poor shape, but Sheila’s condition was particularly dire.

She was severely underweight, frail, and weak. Her rescuers thought that there wasn’t much hope for her, but they decided to take a chance and help her anyway. They wanted to at least give her an opportunity to pull through.

Causes Of Her Condition

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Sheila was rescued from an entertainment center in Texas. Her job was to make her owner a lot of money by performing at high profile parties and events. Sheila wasn’t the only lion at this entertainment center, but she was the lion who had worked and suffered the most.

Sheila’s caretaker was particularly cruel to his lions. Keahey, founder of In-Sync Organization explained, "when they are no longer useful to him, he throws them aside and stops taking care of them."

Life In Captivity

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Sadly for Sheila, she had spent most of her life held in captivity in Texas. She had been a working lioness since she was just a little cub.

She had started living as a pet and appearing in photoshoots, and then she began working in the entertainment industry. Sheila was a wild animal living a domestic, labor-intensive life, and it was taking a massive toll on her health and well-being.

A Safe Environment

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Sheila was suffering from a coordination problem, and pretty soon, she couldn’t even stand up on her own. Her rescuers understood that her muscles were weak and it was causing her problems even while she was just walking around.

She could hardly lift her head up to eat or to get a drink of water. She had completely lost her appetite and it seemed like she had completely lost her will to live.

Not That Rare

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Unfortunately, Sheila’s story isn’t all that rare. Animals are stolen for entertainment purposes all the time. Famously, the documentary Blackfish exposed fishermen who steal baby whales from the ocean and sell them to places like Sea World for profit.

Most of these animals aren’t cared for properly and they end up living short, tortured lifespans. Sheila’s rescuers were hoping that she wouldn’t suffer that same fate

Handing Her Over To Specialists

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Sheila was in such bad condition that the U.S Department of Agriculture decided to hand her over to an animal social welfare organization known as In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center.

This is an organization that specializes in sheltering stranded animals and nursing them back to health. The U.S Department of Agriculture told In-Sync that if Sheila’s condition didn’t improve, they should strongly consider euthanizing her. It wasn’t fair to allow Sheila to suffer.

She Needed Help Eating

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Sheila was brought to In-Sync and started settling in. At first, she wasn’t responding well to treatment. Even so, her rescuers were determined to save Sheila’s life.

She wasn’t able to eat food on her own, so the team would sit with her and hand-feed her. The founder of In Sync said, "For two weeks, I had to go in with Sheila and hand-feed her." She added, "I’d take meatballs balls and literally stuff them down her throat."

No Improvement

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Even though the team at In-Sync was doing everything they could to help Sheila, it didn’t look like she was improving much. Her health seemed to be pretty much the same as it was when she arrived.

One In-Sync member said, "She had very little muscle coordination, and thus when she walked, her legs would slip out from under her." It was going to be a very slow road to recovery.

Nothing Really Helped

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

The rescuers at In-Sync had experience working with wild animals in poor conditions before, but they had never seen a case quite like this. It was as though Sheila was refusing to get better. They thought she had given up completely. After days of weakness and lethargy, Sheila stopped moving altogether.

She would throw up whatever she ate and it seemed like her health was getting worse. This put the rescuers in a really tough position.

Tough Decision

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

The team at In-Sync was at a total loss. They were doing everything they could to help Sheila, but nothing seemed to be working. After a few weeks of tireless work, they decided to consider USDA’s advice of euthanizing this big cat.

Sheila’s life had become painful and difficult. The team had to face the fact that the most merciful thing to do was to give Sheila a peaceful end to life.

Sheila Was Unique

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

The team really didn’t want to lose Sheila. She was a beautiful animal who had spent her whole life in captivity. They wanted to give her a chance to enjoy the life she had left. Sheila wasn’t like other lions. Her fur was very blonde, which made her stand out from other big cats.

Her blonde fur was probably the reason that she was worth so much to her previous owner. Lionesses of this color are only found in Timbavati and South Africa. In-Sync was actually prepared to euthanize Sheila when some new information came to light…

Finally, A Diagnosis

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

The In-Sync team had a revelation about this beautiful ion. They figured out that Sheila was suffering from a disease called toxoplasmosis, as well as a lack of vitamin A.

This meant that there were parasites in Sheila’s blood. The disease can be fatal for members of the feline family. Now that her caretakers knew what was wrong with Sheila, they just had to get her to take her medicine.

A Whole Bunch Of Symptoms

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Toxoplasmosis is an infection usually found in cats. An animal develops this infection when their immune system is not strong enough to fight off infections.

Years of improper care caused Sheila’s immune system to weaken, which is how she developed the disease. Symptoms of toxoplasmosis include reduced coordination, disorientation, anorexia, lethargy, breathing difficulties, enlarged lymph nodes, and apparent blindness. If not properly and promptly treated, this disease can be fatal.

Getting Her To Take Antibiotics Was Tough

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Sheila’s caretakers immediately started treating her with antibiotics. It had taken a while to arrive at a diagnosis, and Sheila was starting her antibiotic regimen quite late into her condition, but this was Sheila’s only hope.

It’s no easy task to get a stubborn lion to take a whole bunch of antibiotics. Sheila was difficult and sometimes it would take an hour for the In-Sync team to get her to take her medicine.

Getting Better

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Immediately after Sheila started taking her antibiotics, she started feeling better. Pretty soon she was able to walk and eat on her own.

Naturally, all of Sheila’s caretakers thought that the improvement in her health was due to the medicine she was taking, but in reality, she was getting better so quickly because of a completely different reason— one that nobody had noticed before. Sheila had a different kind of medicine.

A Drastic Improvement

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

In a Facebook post, In-Sync stated, “Sheila has made a remarkable improvement. She has regained muscle control, swallows easily, and runs and hops like a bunny.”

But even the handlers and caretakers who worked with Sheila every day weren’t sure why this lion who was previously so sickly was able to make such a quick recovery. Antibiotics are wonderful, but they couldn’t have restored Sheila’s will to live all on their own.

A Friend In Need

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

The enclosure Sheila was living in at the In-Sync facility had another enclosure attached to it. There was someone in the enclosure next to Sheila’s that helped the lioness feel happier and healthier.

When the employees at In-Sync discovered what was happening between the two enclosures, they were completely shocked. Keep reading to find out who Sheila’s helpful neighbor was, and why she bounced back so quickly.

Meet Khan

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

It was a lion! A very handsome male lion, to be exact. It seems like Sheila had developed a crush on her neighbor. From the very beginning, these two had formed a very close bond.

Sheila’s love for Kahn was the reason she was able to progress so quickly. Now that she had a relationship with another lion, she had found the will to live. Also, Kahn had a similar backstory to Sheila.

Birds Of A Feather (Or Lions Of A… Mane?)

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Kahn is a six-year-old lion who was rescued by In-Sync just a few months before Sheila’s rescue. Like Sheila, Kahn was a lion who used to work in the entertainment industry in Texas.

He was also mistreated by his handlers and when he arrived at the rescue facility, he was in very poor health just like Sheila was. Maybe these two were able to bond so quickly because they had lived through similar circumstances.

Kahn The Magnificent

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Just like Sheila, Kahn was a show animal. He used to entertain audiences in private parties by showing off his roar or balancing on his two back legs. His handlers took him to different events around the city, and sometimes he performed at multiple events or parties in a single day.

All of that traveling and hard work made him sick, but he was still forced to perform despite his illness.

Kahn Was In A Bad Place

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

When Kahn was finally rescued by the In-Sync team, he was in horrible condition. He was malnourished and weighed about 100 pounds less than the average lion his age. He had been beaten and overworked by his owner.

He was forced to live in a tiny cage that stunted his growth and compromised his bones. He became so frustrated with his living conditions that he did something totally unexpected.

The Extent Of His Frustration

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Because of the way he was treated and how he was forced to live, Kahn lion chewed his own tail off out of boredom and frustration. The tip of his tail had become completely raw and swollen. Had he not been rescued in time, he would have developed an infection and died.

Keahey explained, “When Kahn came, the end of his tail was completely chewed off and [he] was very thin.” Kahn also suffered from bone problems that made it difficult for him to walk.

An Aggressive Lion

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Kahn was very aggressive when he first came to the rescue center. It was very difficult for the In-Sync team to interact with him and to help him. Because he hadn’t been given enough food when he was living with his previous owner, he was very aggressive when it came to feeding time.

In many ways, Kahn was a very dangerous lion. Workers had to use extreme care when feeding him or treating him.

A Part Of The Family

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Kahn was a fighter, and unlike Sheila, he never lost his will to live. He was able to recover quickly and soon this aggressive beast turned into a calm and relaxed animal.

Kahn fit right in with the other lions at the rescue center, and he seemed to really enjoy his new life in retirement. His aggression was mostly an effect of his health issues, and now that his health issues are resolved, he is much less aggressive.

A New Home

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Kahn felt right at home at the In-Sync rescue center. He became so good-natured that the workers at the center were able to build him some cinder-block stairs so that he could get into the den in his enclosure more easily.

Now he had a lot more room to stretch out and relax. This place was a lot different from the small cage that Kahn was used to living in.

Ready-Made Friends

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Now Kahn just needed a friend to play with. Lions are very social creatures who tend to live in packs (called prides), which is why it’s especially upsetting that both Kahn and Sheila were isolated from other lions for so long.

As soon as Kahn and Sheila were placed next to each other they immediately developed a friendship. This friendship was the key to Sheila’s recovery. Kahn’s fighting spirit was starting to rub off on her.

Different Responses To Similar Trauma

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Both of these wild cats had gone through the same kind of tragedy, however, the situations of both were a little different.

The in-sync founder explained ‘It was easy to treat him and get him comfortable with his new surroundings. Sheila, on the other hand, was in very bad shape … Sheila was almost dead.” Even though these lions had both been through a lot of trauma, their different personalities caused them to respond to that trauma differently.

Moving In Together

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Keahey opened up about the improving condition of both the lions: “As time went by they both healed and grew into beautifully grown lions.” She continued, “In the meanwhile, we had finished our new lion enclosure.

The way it was designed would have Kahn and Sheila living next door to each other.” These two were taking the next step in their relationship. Who knows where this pairing could go?

A Loving Relationship

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Kahn and Sheila’s friendship developed into something more than a friendship. The two would spend a lot of time playing with each other. Keahey said, “Sheila spent the next few months showing off for Kahn, and Kahn strutted his stuff for her.”

These two lions clearly had some kind of love for each other, that is if you believe that lions can fall in love. Have you seen The Lion King? They definitely can.

Taking Precautions

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

The workers at In-Sync saw that these two lions were clearly affectionate towards each other. They decided to let them date and to let them share an enclosure, but before they did that, they spayed Sheila so that there were no happy accidents. We don’t need any more lions born in captivity.

Vicky, who works at In-Sync explained, “we did short dates every day, then the dates got longer and then the dates became unsupervised.”

When Two Lions Get Married

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

The workers at In-Sync saw that these two lions were clearly affectionate towards each other. They decided to let them date and to let them share an enclosure, but before they did that, they spayed Sheila so that there were no happy accidents. We don’t need any more lions born in captivity.

Vicky, who works at In-Sync explained, “we did short dates every day, then the dates got longer and then the dates became unsupervised.”

Can You Feel The Love Tonight?

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

This newlywed couple can’t get enough of each other. Sheila is absolutely in love with her husband. She also enjoys playing with cardboard boxes and getting a lot of attention from her caretakers. Vicky has revealed that Kahn is very possessive over his wife.

He gets very jealous when other lions look at Sheila and he does everything in his power to protect her. Keep reading to find out what Kahn does when another lion approaches Sheila.

A Jealous Husband

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

Kahn knows that he’s super lucky to have a wife as strong and as beautiful as Sheila. Kahn likes to make sure that she’s safe at all times. Vicky says, “Then Kahn lets that guy know she belongs to him. He roars and sometimes charges at them.”

These two rescued animals make such a perfect couple. But what happened to the people who abused them? What are they doing now?

Actions Have Consequences

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

The man who abused Sheila, Kahn and other animals is no longer entitled to keep big cats or wild animals. He lost his ability to keep lions, which in turn affected his business and how much money he is able to make.

However, some animal rights activists thought that this man should receive a more severe penalty. They thought he should spend time in prison or at least be fined for what he did to these magnificent creatures.

A Happy Ending

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@insyncexotics / Facebook
@insyncexotics / Facebook

This story that started with animals in horrible conditions, fortunately, ended with some lion-sized love. Sheila was almost euthanized, but now she gets to live out the rest of her life with her beloved lion husband.

This story makes us believe in happy endings, and it makes us want to do everything we can to make sure that no more lions are stolen from their natural homes and overworked for human entertainment.