nature, lions, poaching, wildlife, nature conservation

Sirga the Lion and Valentine Gruener on Instagram.

Little lioness Sirga was discovered when she was only a few days old. Born in a rehabilitation camp, her mother couldn't defend her cubs and all her siblings were killed by other lions.

To make matters worse, Sirga’s mother refused to feed her.

But then Sirga found Valentine Gruener, co-founder of the Modisa Wildlife Project. In an interview with NBC News, Gruener revealed he chose the name “Sirga” after a 1993 french film “L’enfant lion.”

The name couldn’t have been more perfect. For Sirga was clearly destined to become a star.


Their claim to fame...

@sirgathelioness

Sirga doesn‘t understand the concept of social distancing. Luckily, she doesn‘t have to. ##tiktokwildlifeday

♬ Oh No I Hope I Don't Fall... - IndieHay

Sirga and Gruener’s most viral video shows the gentle giant giving the biggest, sweetest, most exuberant greeting to her caretaker. You know when big dogs don't realize how massive they are? Yeah, it’s like that.

“Sirga doesn’t understand the concept of social distancing,“ the video’s caption reads.

This video currently has close to 195,000 likes, and received a massive amount of positive reactions:

"She’s soooo happy to see you and love up on you."

"So beautiful!!! Love your relationship with such a powerful and amazing girl."

"I want a big cat hug!"

Since rising to social media stardom, Gruener and Sirga have racked up quite a few amazing TikToks. Below are some of the highlights:

Teeth brushing (hard with big cats and little cats alike)

@sirgathelioness

The teeth in the back of a lions jaw act like scissors, they’ll cut through flesh and bones with ease. Sirga knows when to be gentle though 😉 ##wildlife

♬ original sound - Val Gruener & Sirga

Sirga cleans off her canines with a small stick, although Gruener admits that it's more for entertainment than it is hygiene.

Massive toe beans

@sirgathelioness

Reply to @otterlyvirgo lion claws are shaped like hooks. Deadly weapons with which they pull down large prey like antelope or buffalo

♬ original sound - Val Gruener & Sirga

Those are certainly some impressive murder mittens.

Some cool hunting POVS

@sirgathelioness

Hey @GoPro can you send new gear?😬🥲 ##wildlife

♬ Marlboro Nights - Lonely God

Sirga does her own hunting on the reserve, which is six times larger than Central Park in New York City.

…and hunting fails

@sirgathelioness

The poor guy had no clue 😅 ##wildlife

♬ original sound - Val Gruener & Sirga

Jackal: 1. Sirga: 0.

But hey, you win some, you lose some.

Plus a heartwarming look at then vs. now

@sirgathelioness

Happy Birthday big girl! We‘ve come a long way 👣🐾 ##animalsoftiktok ##lioness

♬ original sound - Val Gruener & Sirga

It's pretty endearing to see their bond grow over 10 years.

Gruener even uses the platform to answer some common questions, such as:

Would Sirga protect Gruener?

@sirgathelioness

Reply to @anactualpinecone Probably the most asked question about Sirga and me. Here you go!

♬ original sound - Val Gruener & Sirga

Camera operators, beware.

 Does she interact with anyone else?

@sirgathelioness

Reply to @sean_n17 let me know if you have any questions regarding Sirga in the comments! Cheers, Val

♬ original sound - Val Gruener & Sirga

No, the trained professional is the only person who interacts with the lovable, yet all the same predatory animal.

Why not let her back into the wild?

@sirgathelioness

By hand-raising Sirga I made a commitment to care for her as long as she lives. The risks of her being killed (or she being a threat to people/livestock) in the wild is just too big. ##lionsoftiktok

♬ Stories 2 - Danilo Stankovic

Basically, the risks of being in the wild far outweigh the potential benefits.

Why does she wear a tracking collar?

@sirgathelioness

Reply to @ericsaltzman42 a lot going on at the moment so we haven‘t found the time to post on TikTok! Thank you if you‘re still here 😉🙌

♬ original sound - Val Gruener & Sirga

Again, this is a safety measure. Mainly against poachers and in case Sirga gets out.

How much does it cost to feed her?

@sirgathelioness

Happy to answer your questions. Feel free to leave your question about Sirga, me or my life in the comments. ##sirgathelioness

♬ original sound - Val Gruener & Sirga

Answer: around $500 a month. That's a whole lotta meat.

Has Sirga met other lions?

@sirgathelioness

Reply to @hetpatel4620 happy to answer your questions! ##sirgathelioness

♬ original sound - Val Gruener & Sirga

Yes! Though the fence has been a boundary. Sirga would at first shy away from her initial lion visitor, but then they ended up sleeping side by side. Sadly the lion visitors have since passed away (or, even more tragic, were possibly poached). But the plan is for Sirga to eventually have her own lion partner at Modisa.

Can lions be pets? (this one seems obvious)

@sirgathelioness

Predators are not pets! Sirga has 2000ha of wild Kalahari where she lives and hunts. If you have any questions drop them in comments!

♬ original sound - Val Gruener & Sirga

Repeat after me: "Predators are not pets."

Actually Gruener brings up a point here that applies to most pets: that you should be committed to the animals full life span if you're going to take care of one.

Gruener also shared that he hopes their story promotes awareness for wildlife and nature conservation, rather than using big pets for fleeting entertainment.

Gruener and Sirga are helping to spread information about the importance of protecting precious wildlife. If you’re looking to help support them, and get the lion’s share of premium content, you can join their Patreon membership here.

May we all find someone who looks at us the way these two look at each other.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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As hunter gatherers, our ancestors ate a diet that was minimally processed and required more effort to chew. As a result, by adolescence their teeth would develop what’s called an edge-to-edge bite, where the jaw is elongated so that both the bottom and top teeth are completely flush with one another.

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"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

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But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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