Locust Grove, Georgia plays home to a furry trio of trouble known as the BLT. And this bear, lion and tiger combo rub together rather well – so much so, in fact, that they’re all, adorably, the best of friends. But how did these unlikely soulmates come to meet?
Say hello to American black bear Baloo, African lion Leo and Shere Khan the Bengal tiger. Their natural homes are so far removed that they are unlikely to ever cross paths in the wild, let alone meet up and form a super-sweet brotherhood. It begs the question, then, as to how they ever got together in the first place.
Unfortunately, the start of their story is rather a sad one. In 2001 police were raiding a house in Atlanta as part of a drugs bust – and ended up discovering something other than narcotics. Baloo, Leo and Shere Khan – all cubs back then – were contained in tiny cages in the home’s basement and appeared alarmingly traumatized.
The conditions they had been left in were also major cause for concern. All three of them were suffering from parasites both on the inside and outside of their bodies and were scrawny and undernourished.
What’s more, their makeshift prisons were so small that Leo had received a nasty wound on his nose through outgrowing his confines; this, sadly, had become infected when the police discovered him. Perhaps the one who had suffered the most physically, though, was Baloo.
Clearly the cub’s captors either hadn’t taken into account the size bears grow to, or hadn’t cared. That was evident from the harness found around Baloo – it had been there so long that it had buried into his skin as he outgrew it.
Fortunately, after he was rescued, Baloo was taken into surgery, where the harness was taken away and his injuries tended to. And after intervention by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the trio were sent to their forever home, Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary (NAAS).
After they received some professional TLC, the cubs all made a full recovery from their horrific treatment. Nevertheless, upon assessing the trio, NAAS decided that their wounds were too serious for them to go back into the wild. So, they stayed at the sanctuary and became known as The BLT – which, of course, stands for bear, lion and tiger.
And, even though they now have their freedom and a loving home, and so are no longer bound together in tragic circumstances, the three animals have remained remarkably inseparable. It’s both unusual and amazing to see how well the trio interact with each other, given their disparate species.
Indeed, it’s rare for predators of different species to get along so well together, especially ones that are as territorial as cats and bears. “They actually seek out each other’s affections; they nuzzle each other. They play together,” Allison Hedgecoth, the animal husbandry manager at NAAS, told Today in 2014.
And Allison has also divulged a little bit about one of the trio’s personalities to website The Dodo. “Shere Khan has always been mischievous, and even though he is getting older this hasn’t changed him one bit,” she explained. Apparently he’s also an affectionate cat, cleaning his buddies and rubbing heads with them throughout the day.
Leo, meanwhile, is rather chilled-out and enjoys taking 40 winks on the front of his clubhouse. He’s not always a lazy lion, though: during what NAAS calls “enrichment time,” he’s more than happy to play or to sniff out intriguing new scents.
And Baloo is known for his sweet tooth and self-assured yet calm temperament. The trio do everything together and get along just like family, relying on each other for comfort, affection and company.
In fact, The BLT have only been apart once during their time at the shelter, and that was when Baloo was in surgery. The cats objected to his absence very loudly, and their distress because their brother was missing was obvious.
Perhaps that traumatizing experience as cubs bonded them, then. Certainly, Allison thinks so – and it definitely goes some way towards explaining the trio’s unusually tight relationship.
And that relationship is so tight, in fact, that the three even live in the same space together. So far, that hasn’t proved a recipe for disaster, either; actually, The BLT seldom even have spats.
Their connection is so incredible, in fact, that even Allison has marveled over it. “It’s really amazing that The BLT all interact like they do,” she told Today in 2014. “As far as we know, this is the only BLT in the world.”
Baloo, Leo and Shere Khan aren’t the only animals at NAAS, though, even if they are likely its most famous residents. The sanctuary actually hosts in excess of 1,500 different creatures of 100 separate species, all within a 250-acre estate.
In fact, the sanctuary is open five days a week for the public to see its remarkable menagerie – including, of course, The BLT. Regardless of whether one witnesses the trio’s incredible relationship up close, though, NAAS founder Jama Hedgecoth believes that we can all learn something from their bond.
As Jama explained to Today in 2014: “They teach you how to get along. They’re definitely not the same color. They’re not the same species. They’re not even from the same country, and they love each other. They’re brothers, and they teach you how to love.” Perhaps we humans could all take a leaf out of The BLT’s book, then.