LOCUST GROVE (Georgia) • The unusual brotherhood of a bear, a lion and a tiger has reportedly lasted 15 years in a United States sanctuary where the trio eat, sleep and play together, media reported.
It all began with a drug raid in 2001 when police discovered the malnourished and infected trio, now nicknamed "The BLT", in a basement of an Atlanta home, according to Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary (NAAS).
The officers handed over the cubs, less than one year old, to NAAS in Georgia, where they were treated and have been inseparable ever since, the animal shelter said.
After all these years, Baloo the American black bear, Leo the African lion and Shere Khan the Bengal tiger are "still equally affectionate with one another", Ms Allison Hedgecoth of NAAS told The Dodo, a website for animal lovers.
Ms Hedgecoth said time has not changed the family dynamics much. "Shere Khan has always been mischievous, and even though he is getting older, this hasn't changed him one bit," she was quoted by The Dodo as saying last Friday.
NAAS has been running a Facebook page for the trio, which are among the most popular animals in the sanctuary.
The non-profit organisation said it spends US$33,000 (S$46,000) monthly to give food and medical care for more than 1,500 animals. The sanctuary is free for admission, but accepts donations.
When discovered, Leo the lion was wounded on its nose and confined to a tiny cage, while Shere Khan the tiger was underweight and infected with parasites, according to NAAS.
Baloo the bear was in the worst condition, with a severely ingrown harness digging into its flesh. It was never loosened as Baloo grew in size, NAAS said on its website.
The only time they were separated was when Baloo had surgery to remove the harness - and this separation greatly distressed the other two cubs, NAAS said.
"Their terrifying early months in life bonded the three together and they are truly inseparable despite their obvious differences," it said.