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Lion Cubs Were So Scared After Poachers Killed Their Mom

“They were very nervous and huddled close together for comfort in the corner of the concrete pen.”

When rescuers opened the dark, concrete pen, two male lion cubs stared at them with wide, frightened eyes.

Just a short time before, poachers had killed their mom in Ethiopia, and took the cubs, now named Rea and Girma, planning to sell them as exotic pets in the illegal wildlife market. Fortunately, Ethiopian police officers caught the traffickers in time, and took Rea and Girma into their custody.

Scared lion cubs huddling together
Rea and Girma huddling together in their concrete pen at the military compound | Born Free Foundation

But the police had nowhere suitable to keep two baby lion cubs — the only place they had was a small concrete pen at a nearby military compound. So this is where Rea and Girma had to stay 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, told The Dodo.

Lion cubs in corner of a concrete pen
Rea and Girma hiding in the corner of the pen at the military compound | Born Free Foundation

Wildlife officials eventually reached out to Born Free Foundation, and asked if they could take the cubs, along with an adult male lion and two cheetahs the police had also confiscated from wildlife traders. Of course, the team at Born Free Foundation agreed — and they transported all of the animals to Ensessa Koteh, an animal rescue and educational center run by Born Free Foundation near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Lion cubs in concrete pen
Born Free Foundation

But this entire ordeal would have been extremely frightening to the cubs, who should have still been with their mom. And 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.

Lion cubs huddling together
Born Free Foundation

Things quickly got better for Rea and Girma at the rescue center — they 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 back in 2016. Today Rea and Girma are 2 years old, and they’ve come a long way since their days in the military compound.

Rescued lion up in a tree
One of the lion brothers up in a tree inside his enclosure at Ensessa Koteh | Born Free Foundation

“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.”

Adult lions inside enclosure
Rea and Girma inside their enclosure at Ensessa Koteh | Born Free Foundation

More than 200 animals call Ensessa Koteh home and, like Rea and Girma, many of them have been confiscated from the wildlife trade. Others were found injured or orphaned.

Sadly, many of the animals can’t be returned to the wild, either because they’re too injured, 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, which would make it hard for them to survive on their own. They’ve also lost their fear of people, which would make them vulnerable to poachers and wildlife smugglers in the wild.

Adult lion resting on platform
One of the two brother lions at Ensessa Koteh | Born Free Foundation

“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.”

Due to a rise in wildlife trafficking, Born Free Foundation is planning to build a new facility at Ensessa Koteh to house more rescued animals. To help make this happen, you can make a donation to Born Free Foundation.