As a cub, the young lion Sirga was orphaned by her pride and rescued by Valentin Gruener and Mikkel Legarth; now the large lioness has developed a close, rare bond with the conservationists who are fighting to save big cats in the Republic of Botswana.

Nestled in the heart of southern Africa, Botswana is home to diverse areas of wildlife habitat where lions, Blue Wildebeest, antelopes, endangered African wild dogs and the world's largest concentration of African elephants, among others, reside. But as farming is increasing, conflict between man and wildlife is increasing as well.

And that’s where the Modisa Wildlife Project steps in. Legarth, from Denmark, and Gruener, from Germany, started the project in an effort to create a bond between people and the wilderness. By cooperating with leading researchers in Botswana and with the University of Texas at Austin, Modisa Wildlife Project, according to its website, “has the unique opportunity to create positive changes in local communities which in turn will create a better understanding of and a brighter future for wildlife and the big cats of Botswana.”

If Sirga is any indication, the team’s work is a success.

“A pride had three cubs and two were killed before Sirga was abandoned without food,” Legarth told the Daily Mail. “It happened on our land and we could not stand by and watch her die.”

Gruener and Legarth took her in, but have been diligent in their approach with her. They made sure that she wasn’t treated like many lions in captivity; their goal is to eventually release her back into the wild.

And while she behaves practically as if she were the family dog, there are boundaries: she is not fed by tourists; she only interacts with Gruener and Legarth; and she hunts for her food on the 28,000-acre conservation lodge where she is kept.

The plan is to eventually relocate the animals to a large protected reserve where they have enough wild prey to feed on.

“We are located on Willie De Graaff’s 10,000-hectare farm with lions, wild dogs, and leopards that have been saved from certain death,” Legarth said. “We are now looking for sponsors that can support us with a long-term solution for those animals.”

Watch Sirga and her friends in the video below:

Lion forms close, playful bond with conservationists who rescued her
The 110-pound lioness, Sirga, romps with her rescuers as if she were the family pet.