The extraordinary bond between conservationist Mikkel Legarth and the lioness he once saved from almost certain death can be summed up in one picture:
The wonderful photograph, which was taken in October 2012, has gone viral this week after the pair's story was picked up by several news outlets. In the image, Legarth, who founded the Modisa Wildlife Project in Botswana with fellow animal lover Valentin Gruener, is seen hugging Sirga, a 110-pound lioness who had been abandoned as a cub.
"A pride had three cubs and two were killed before Sirga was abandoned without food," Legarth told Caters News Agency. "It happened on our land and we could not stand by and watch her die."
It was in February of last year that Legarth and Gruener took Sirga in. The animal had been severely dehydrated at the time, according to a 2012 post on the Modisa Wildlife Project's blog, but the duo nursed her back to health.
"We believe that she is probably the most spoiled and well-fed lion you can find in Botswana," Legarth wrote in the post. "We made her milk from scratch -- fresh eggs, cream, milk, vitamins, sunflower oil and calcium -- [a] luxurious meal for a little lion. Now she is too old for milk, but we are still making sure to cut the best pieces of meat for her."
Sirga's surrogate parents say that the lioness -- who interacts only with Legarth and Gruener to prevent excessive human contact -- is given plenty of space to roam and hunt in her natural habitat.
Legarth and Gruener, who are from Denmark and Germany, respectively, founded the Modisa Wildlife Project in 2012. Meaning "guardian" in Seswana, a local language in central Botswana, Modisa is dedicated to the conservation and preservation of the Kalahari ecosystem, according to the group's website.
For more on Sirga, watch the magnificent animal giving one of her two human "moms" a big morning hug in this Sept. 2012 YouTube video: