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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June 2005, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Kidnapped girl 'rescued' by lions
A pride of lions has rescued a girl from her kidnappers in rural south-west Ethiopia, according to police.

A 12-year-old girl was snatched by four men on her way home from school early in June.

A week later, kidnappers were moving her with police in pursuit when three lions encountered the group and chased the men off, local police said.

The lions stayed with the girl without harming her, before departing as police searching for her came near.

Sergeant Wondmu Wedaj told the media from Bita Genet, some 560 kilometres (348 miles) south-west of the capital, Addis Ababa, that they found the girl alive but shocked and terrified.

'Gift'

"They stood guard until we found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back into the forest," the policeman said.

Serengeti Lion, BBC
The police did not know the sex of the lions

However, some lion experts have expressed doubts about the credibility of the story.

"They were probably preparing to eat her but were intercepted by the police and the others," game hunter Colonel Lemma Legesse told the AFP news agency.

He said lion attacks on humans and farm animals have become increasingly frequent in the region.

The girl told the police she had been beaten by her kidnappers, but no harm was done to her by the lions.

An Ethiopian wildlife expert said the lions may have spared the girl because her crying may have sounded like the mewing sound from a lion cub.

"Everyone thinks this is some kind of miracle, because normally the lions would attack people," Sergeant Wondimu added.

Four men have been caught by police.

The United Nations says abductions, which lead to marriage, are rife in rural areas where the majority of Ethiopians live.


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