Photo by Heather Middleton
By Elaine Rackley
"Leo" the lion, "Baloo" the bear, and Shere Khan the tiger, will be thrust into the national spotlight again Friday, with the airing of a repeat episode of the National Geographic channel's "Unlikely Animal Friends" at 5 p.m. The episode originally aired Jan. 7.
A three-man production crew from the National Geographic's television company was in Henry County at the Noah's Ark Animal Rehabilitation Center in Locust Grove. The center provides a home to almost 1,000 unwanted animals, and has a companion operation that does the same for dozens of orphaned children.
"Unlikely Animal Friends" is a program which features heart-warming stories of animals that form bonds with animals of other species. National Geographic wanted to find out more about the lion-tiger-and-bear trio's interpersonal dynamics, how they behave as they interact around food, play, and sleep.
"There is probably no where else in the world, where you will find a lion, tiger and bear living together in the same habitat," said Diane Smith, Assistant to the Noah's Ark Director.
"Our goal was to tell the story behind interspecies animal relationships," said Stevi Calandra, Senior Producer for the National Geographic channel.
"We do a lot of research to find unique situations," Calandra said during an interview Wednesday. "We looked through 50 to 75 stories before we saw a news story about Noah's Ark trio."
The odd combination of the animals presented another unparalleled condition, which is the longevity of their friendship.
"Noah's Ark was rare in that the friends were with each other every day. The animals [lived] together for years, and hopefully they will grow old together," explained Calandra.
It was Jama Hedgecoth, founder and Director of Noah's Ark, who decided not to separate the three when they came to the center as babies.
"The decision was made by Jama Hedgecoth to allow them to remain together because that's what they were accustomed to," said Smith.
Leo, Baloo and Shere Khan have lived at Noah's Ark for more than a decade. They were delivered together to the animal rehabilitation facility in 2001, as babies, by the Department of Natural Resources. They were confiscated as property following a drug bust in Atlanta. "They were probably about two to three months-old when they arrived," said Smith, Noah's Ark's assistant director.
The animals are now nine, and continue to live as a family, explained Smith. People visiting Noah's Ark enjoy watching the trio interact while they play, the center's organizers said. The TV crew was able to capture them showing off their friendships, during the recent airing about the Noah's Ark unlikely animal friends.
"It almost seemed like they were putting on a show, boxing and play fighting," Noah's deputy director Smith said. "They were very curious about the cameras, they liked getting up close to the cameraman."
"For example, it seems as though Shere Khan and Baloo are more obviously affectionate, which is interesting because tigers are considered solitary animals by nature, whereas, lions are more social as a species," said Colleen McGraw an associate producer of the show.
The appearances of Leo the lion, Baloo the bear, and Shere Khan the tiger, on the National Geographic channel is hailed as a defining moment for Noah's Ark, said Smith.
"When you are an animal facility, National Geographic is the top media recognition," she said.