ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
(AP) - Police say three lions rescued a 12-year-old girl kidnapped by men
who wanted to force her into marriage, chasing off her abductors and guarding her until police and relatives tracked her down
in a remote corner of Ethiopia.
The men had held the
girl for seven days, repeatedly beating her, before the lions chased them
away and guarded her for half a day before her family and police found her, Sgt. Wondimu Wedajo
said Tuesday by telephone from the provincial capital of Bita Genet, some 560 kilometers (348 miles)
southwest of the capital, Addis Ababa.
“They stood guard until we found her and then they
just left her like a gift and went back into the forest,'' Wondimu said, adding he did not know
whether the lions were male or female.
News of the June 9 rescue, which took place in a forest
on the outskirts of Bita Genet, was slow to filter out from Kefa Zone
in southwestern Ethiopia.
“If the lions
had not come to her rescue then it could have been much worse. Often these young girls are raped and severely beaten to force
them to accept the marriage,'' he said.
“Everyone in thinks this is some kind of miracle,
because normally the lions would attack people,'' Wondimu
Stuart Williams, a wildlife expert with the rural development
ministry, said that it was likely that the young girl was saved because she was crying from the trauma of her attack.
“A young girl whimpering could be mistaken for the
mewing sound from a lion cub, which in turn could explain why they (the lions) didn't eat her,'' Williams said. “Otherwise they probably would have
The girl, the youngest of four brothers and sisters, was
“shocked and terrified'' and had to be treated for the cuts from her beatings, Wondimu said.
He said that police had caught four of the men, but were
still looking for three others.
kidnapping has long been part of the marriage custom, a tradition of sorrow and violence whose origins are murky.
The United Nations estimates that more than 70 percent
of marriages in Ethiopia are by abduction, practiced in rural areas
where the majority of the country's 71 million people live.
Ethiopia's lions, famous
for their large black manes, are the country's national symbol and adorn statues and the local currency. Former emperor Haile Selassie kept a pride in the royal palace in Addis Ababa.
Despite their integral place in Ethiopia
culture, their numbers have been falling, according to experts, as farmers encroach on bush land.
Hunters also kill the animals for their skins, which can
fetch US$1,000 (euro830), despite a recent crackdown against illegal animal trading across the country. Williams said that
at most only 1,000 Ethiopian lions remain in the wild.
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