LOCUST GROVE, Georgia - Found in a drug dealer’s basement when they were just cubs, a bear, a lion and a tiger were rescued and moved to a Georgia animal sanctuary, where they continue living together in the same enclosure.
Baloo the bear, Leo the lion and Shere Khan the tiger have been best friends for 13 years. Their collective nickname at Noah's Art Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove, Ga., is BLT, for Bear-Lion-Tiger.
And after 13 years, the trio are no longer just cubs. Balo is now a 700-pound bear, Leo is now a 500-pound lion and Shere Khan is a 350-pound tiger.
"They were rescued together as cubs," Allison Hedgecoth from Noah's Ark Sanctuary told wsbtv.com's Nelson Hicks. "They were just very bonded. They came from a really sad situation. They were hurt. They were unhealthy. That hard time really made them come together as family. We never separated them. As you can see, they still live together, play together and they love each other."
"All of Noah's Ark's animals are rescued in one form or another," Hedgecoth said. "Some people have exotics as pets such as monkeys and, believe it or not, lions and tigers and bears, and then they get out of hand and they either surrender them to us or they are confiscated by either the Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Department of Agriculture."
Noah's Ark Sanctuary is a 250-acre nonprofit facility that dozens of different types of animals call home. It originally opened in Ellenwood in 1978, before moving to its current location in 1990. It's not a zoo -- staffers don't breed animals. It's a place where rescued animals come to live out the remainder of their lives.
You can follow their adventures on the sanctuary's Facebook page.
But "The BLT" isn't the only odd pairing at Noah's Ark. Across the Sanctuary, there's a 490-pound tiger and 130-pound bear that are best friends. Little Anne and Doc live together, too. Little Anne is an American Black bear that was separated from her mother at only 2 months of age. Doc the Bengal tiger was rescued from an overcrowded breeding facility. When Doc came to Noah’s Ark, the pair was put together so they could have the company of another animal. One night, before falling asleep, Anne climbed on top of Doc and began sucking on his ears, making a humming noise that soothed her right to sleep. The pair has been together even since.
There's a pair of tigers named Charlie's Angels that were rescued from a small roadside circus. They lived in a small trailer and were pulled behind a diesel truck for about five years. The tigers had never stepped on grass before coming to Noah's Ark.
There's a monkey named Calvin who attacked his owner, as wild animals will do, Hedgecoth noted. She said Calvin's owner removed all of the monkey's teeth himself without anesthesia in response to the attack. Calvin has severe facial scarring and has to have a specialized diet because he doesn't have any teeth.
If owners have to remove teeth and claws from an animal, they probably need to reassess whether the animal should be a pet, Hedgecoth noted.
Because so many monkey owners pull or file the teeth of their pets, the dental bill for monkeys at Noah's Ark makes up a sizable portion of its monthly operating cost.
"We don't receive any state or government funding," Hedgecoth said. "It costs over $33,000 a month just to feed and provide medical care for our animals."
And yet, the organization doesn't charge to tour the facility. Noah's Ark only asks for donations. To donate, either monetarily or with an in-kind donation, check out Noah's Ark on the web.
The sanctuary is looking for volunteers, too. They currently have about 250 volunteers, but they are always looking for more.
The sanctuary is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 12 to 3 p.m. The picnic area, playground and welcome center are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The walking tour of the animals is only open a few hours a day because it's a sanctuary for the animals where they can relax. Staffers believe it's important for the animals to spend most of their days without a lot of people.