Three lions rescued and then protected a 12-year-old Ethiopian girl from men who had abducted and beaten her in an attempt to force her into marriage.
The girl had been missing for a week when police and relatives found her with the lions, Sgt. Wondimu Wedajo told The Associated Press. It is believed the lions chased off the abductors, one of whom wanted to marry her against her will.
“[The lions] stood guard until we found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back into the forest,” Wedajo said.
The lions reportedly guarded the girl for about half a day.
“If the lions had not come to her rescue, then it could have been much worse," Wedajo continued. "Often these young girls are raped and severely beaten to force them to accept the marriage."
Local residents view the incident as a miracle.
“Everyone thinks this is some kind of miracle, because normally the lions would attack people,” Wedajo said.
The girl’s cries from the trauma of the attack may have been what saved her life.
“A young girl whimpering could be mistaken for the mewing sound from a lion cub, which in turn could explain why they didn’t eat her,” Stuart Williams, a wildlife expert with the rural development ministry, said.
A total of seven men abducted the girl; police apprehended four of them. The abduction left the girl shocked and terrified, according to Wedajo.
The abduction of girls with the intent to force them into marriage is a problem throughout Ethiopia, according to Reuters Africa. If the girl is raped by her captor, it oftentimes forces her family to agree to the marriage because of the shame associated with her losing her virginity.
In a March 2016 landmark ruling, the Ethiopian government was ordered to pay $150,000 in reparations to Woineshet Zebene Negash, who at the age of 13 was raped, abducted and forced into marriage.
Negash filed a complaint with the Gambia-based African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights after Ethiopia’s court overturned the conviction of the man who committed the crimes against her.
"It is a practice that draws stark parallels with a proverbial ancient past when a man would hunt down the female of his choice, slug her over the head with a club, drag her by the hair to his dwelling, rape her and emerge triumphantly beating his chest," the court’s ruling said.
The court found Ethiopia failed to protect Negash or provide her with justice, and thus ordered the country to pay her reparations.