A compilation video of the massive creature leaping up and hugging her caretaker Valentin Gruener has gone viral on TikTok, amassing almost 195,000 likes on the short-form video app.
Gruener, the co-founder of the Modisa Wildlife Project in central Botswana, found Sirga when she was just a few days old, he told NBC News on Thursday via a video messaging app.
Sirga’s parents had been captured because they were preying on livestock, and their cubs were born in the rehabilitation camp where they were being kept.
With their mother unable to move her cubs away from the pride as she would in nature, Sirga’s siblings appeared to have been killed in the camp by other lions, Gruener said.
Sirga survived, he said, but her mother refused to feed her.
He added that he named Sirga, who turns 10 next year, after the star of “L’enfant lion,” a 1993 film from France and Burkina Faso.
She lives in a fenced reserve of her own, adjacent to his home, he said.
“Sirga is amazingly gentle for a very large cat. When I go to see her, she always hugs me like in that video,” he said. “I think overall she’s got a very friendly and gentle personality for a lion.”
After the video was posted to TikTok, the reaction from users was largely positive.
“I want a lion so bad,” one, @dylanglover_, wrote.
“I am so envious. Thank you for all the glimpses of what it would be like to work on a reserve,” another, @livingthequeenlife, said.
Gruener said Sirga’s social media popularity had helped him to shed light on his work and wildlife conservation as a whole.
“We do a lot of Q and A videos and let people comment, to answer questions they might have about this life,” he said. “Sirga, in some ways, is a bit of an ambassador for nature, conservation, or the wild lions that are really out there.”
Despite their strength, lions are not dangerous if one knows how to behave around them, he said.
“A lion is not like a machine that wants to kill anyone,” he said. “They’re quite predictable and actually fairly harmless to us.”