The touching story of these three friends began back in 2001, when police carried out a drug raid on a house in Atlanta. The officers’ search took them to the basement of the house, where they found something that must have made their jaws hit the floor. There, three caged exotic animal cubs had been kept in terrible conditions.
The babies, a bear, a lion and a tiger, were all underweight, all underfed and all infested with parasites both inside and out. As well as their malnourishment and neglect, the animals had also suffered horrible abuse in their cages, which were clearly not fit for animals of their size.
The lion was further found with a sore-looking injury on his nose; he had been kept in a crate so small that the bars were digging into his snout. Even worse, the bear cub had outgrown his restraints completely, so the harness had to be surgically removed from his flesh.
After they were rescued, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources took the trio to the Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary (NAAS), where they received emergency medical treatment. All three of the cubs thankfully made a full recovery and found a new home at the sanctuary, and a new family with each other.
Two of the cubs, Baloo, the American black bear, and Shere Khan, the Bengal tiger, were named after characters from The Jungle Book. The African lion cub was named Leo. Thereafter, the three buddies became widely known as the “BLT”: Bear, Lion and Tiger.
Surprisingly, even after they were rescued, the three preferred staying together, and the sanctuary allowed them to share the same living space. There, they acted every bit like a family, giving each other comfort, love and playing with each other as if they were born to it. Indeed, the sanctuary reported that their traumatic past brought them together as brothers.
“Baloo, Leo and Shere Khan eat, sleep, and play together and even seek out grooming and affection from one another, head rubbing and licking each another,” NAAS said on its website. “Their terrifying early months in life bonded the three together and they are truly inseparable despite their obvious differences.”
The brothers lived together happily for 15 years at NAAS, well into their golden years in terms of their lifespan. However, in August 2016, the sanctuary posted the sad news that the BLT was going to be missing one of its beloved family members.
“On August 11th we said goodbye to our beloved Leo, the 15-year-old lion in our ‘BLT’ trio,” the organization’s statement read on Facebook. Leo hadn’t been himself and it was discovered that cancer of the liver had overtaken him.
Before Leo passed, though, his brothers were allowed to say a final farewell to him. Interestingly, the sanctuary staff reported that it’s likely that Leo’s passing came as no surprise to Shere Khan and Baloo. According to the Facebook spokesperson for NAAS, the BLT brothers probably noticed Leo’s health problems before his caregivers did.
“Animals are so perceptive,” NAAS wrote. “With the incredible bond the BLT had since being rescued together from a drug dealer’s basement in 2001, it is highly likely that Baloo and Shere Khan knew their lion brother was terminally ill long before Leo began displaying outward symptoms.”
Because of the tight bond the BLT shared, then, the sanctuary staff are also taking extra precautions to monitor Leo’s brothers for behavioral changes. So far, Baloo and Shere Khan are coping “remarkably well” with Leo’s absence.
To further commemorate his memory, a lion statue was placed on his grave next to the clubhouse where the brothers would spend their time together.
Thanks to Carla Herreria and her 2016 article from the Huffpost for bringing this story to light.