Saving Sirga: The Truth Behind the Stories

Over the past year or so many of you have written and asked a number of questions. We would like to take the time to answer some of them before the release of I AM LION :

How did Val come to rescue Sirga? The Blogs and Articles about Sirga and Val on social media and on the internet contradict one another. 

We sympathise with your confusion! 

  • Val Grüner and his business partner Mikkel Legarth did not find Sirga lost and abandoned in the wild as some stories suggest. 
  • They never had a lion farm in Africa.  
  • Tauana Films was not some random film company that wanted to make a series about a tame animal. 
  • Jürgen and Tarina Jozefowicz of Tauana Films were not random strangers. They made it possible for Val to find work at Grasslands. Without them Val would not have found Sirga. In Saving Sirga, they tried to give meaning to her life as a captive pet. 

Here is the true story of Sirga.

Sirga’s parents were wild lions. They crossed the fence from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve into the cattle farms in search of food and territory. They were captured on a cattle farm by Willie De Graaff, the owner of Grasslands, because he didn’t want to shoot them. 

Sirga’s mother gave birth to Sirga and two siblings inside a lion enclosure. 

Sirga’s two siblings were played to death by other captive lions in the enclosure, because their mother could not hide them from the other lions after they were born –a lioness normally removes herself from the pride, give birth in seclusion and bring the cubs back to the pride after approximately six weeks. 

Sirga was weak and dehydrated and would probably have died too. 

Val removed her from the enclosure with the permission of Willie de Graaff, the owner of Grasslands and custodian of all the captive predators on Grasslands, including Sirga. This happened shortly after Val started working as caretaker to the captive predators on Grasslands. 

Willie gave Val permission to hand-rear the cub and allowed him and his partner Mikkel Legarth to start a paying volunteer project on Grasslands at that time. Mikkel was not there all the time so Val took over the day-to-day care of Sirga.

As a small cub Sirga was taken on walks with friends and volunteers. Later on, one volunteer at a time was allowed to go along, until Sirga grew bigger and  accidentally scratched a few volunteers. Once she killed her first Hartebeest Jurgen advised Val not to continue the walks. 

Once filming started Tauana Films insisted that all walks with volunteers were stopped and Jürgen Jozefowicz, director of photography, joined Val and Sirga on their outings. The volunteers could still follow Val and Sirga and Jurgen’s their movements when they crossed a road or stopped at a favourite tree, but only from game viewing vehicles at certain points.  

Once filming started only Jurgen walked with Val and Sirga. His vast experience with and understanding of lions in the wild made him the ideal cameraman. 

Although Sirga accepted him as part of the group, Jurgen told Val that he did not want to interact with her, because he was not supposed to be part of the story and interacting with her would impact the filming. 

Instead Jurgen took on the role of the ‘silent and distant male lion’. Sirga still came to him and checked with him before and during every walk, but he stayed separate like most pride males do. Sirga sees Val as his ‘mother’, so Jurgen was not expected to be one of the ‘females’ in the hunting party.  

When the government decided that Val should stop all further walks with Sirga, because she posed a danger to the San people living in the area, we stopped filming, because she was no longer allowed out of her enclosure.

We went back to film once custodianship was transferred from Willie De Graaff to Val and he moved her from Grasslands to Bloudraad Farm near Tsabong.

Since then Sirga has been held in a 1-hectare enclosure pending her release into a larger, 2,000 hectare enclosure which will give her more freedom of movement.

Sirga can never be completely free, because her association with humans makes her a potential danger to local farmers and their livestock.

 Is Val part of the film team? Did Val make the Saving Sirga series?

No, Val is not part of the film team and he did not produce the series. 

Jürgen, Tarina and Michael Jozefowicz were the directors and producers of the series Saving Sirga: Journey into the Heart of a Lion (© Tauana Films.) They had the idea, wrote the script, named it, filmed and edited the series and paid for it.  

Their company, Tauana Films (Tauana = a Barolong word meaning Son of a Lion) has been around for almost forty years. 

Jürgen and Tarina have written, produced and directed more than forty films in that time. That is pretty amazing for independent filmmakers.

From a filmmaking perspective Val was a very important main character in the series, not just because of his remarkable friendship with Sirga. The directors used his character as the ‘conduit’ for the conservation messages that they wanted to convey to the viewers.  

“Val was a pleasure to work with. He took direction very well and was very good at being our ‘voice’ and expressing our message about the challenges faced by large predators in the Kalahari Desert today to the viewers.” 

The producers intended the series to give viewers an in-depth perspective on the human/predator conflict raging in the Kalahari and across Africa.

“Sirga puts a face to a brutal conflict, because her right to live as a wild lion was taken away from her and she was raised as a pet by a human. If any predator could create awareness of the problems facing lions and engage younger viewers in the tragedies of predators that are caught up in that battle, she could.  She survived. She was lucky to find a caring and dedicated friend in Val. Her tragedy is that she will never be free to live as a wild lion”.

Shouldn’t Tauana Films pay for Sirga’s new enclosure fence in Tsabong?

No. Tauana Films has honoured its promises and exceeded its commitments. “We made the series because in Sirga we see a classic representation of the human/predator conflict in Africa. “ 

Saving Sirga has become an award-winning series seen by millions of people across the globe. 

The overwhelmingly positive response to the series has given Val unprecedented global exposure and introduced him and Sirga to millions of fans of the show. 

Donations of tens of thousands of Dollars have streamed in from the Saving Sirga fans and have given Val a unique opportunity to create a measure of freedom for Sirga.

As wildlife film producers Jurgen and Tarina will always be committed to Sirga and her well-being and will always be there to offer friendship and advice.   

I AM LION: Journey Into the Mind of a Lion

Tauana Films’ next project is another film called I AM LION

It features both Sirga and Val, only this time Sirga is the main character; the ‘voice’ of wild lions as Tauana Films team journeys deep into the mind of this amazing lioness.

Val’s character is a metaphor for our inability to understand the other animals we live with even when we have the best of intentions.

 “Sirga’s value to conservation lies in the fact that we could record her growth and behaviour. Now we can show her as the sentient being she is. We can show her amazing ability to learn and adapt to her surroundings at a more sophisticated level than mere instinct. 

And that is why we are making I AM LION.”  

The Tauana Films Producers.

*all photos taken by Tarina Jozefowicz

5 thoughts on “Saving Sirga: The Truth Behind the Stories

  1. Looking forward to I Am Lion.
    Thank you, because of the series that has open my eyes and my heart just something I never even knew of.

    • Thank you so much for your feedback Jackie. We are so pleased that you liked the series and that it opened your eyes to something new!
      If you found the series interesting and inspiring you’re going to be bowled over by the new film I AM LION which will be coming out soon! We’ll post notifications about where you can see it as soon as it is done, so please keep an eye out on the website and on our Tauana Films Facebook page for those. All the very best.

  2. Strange enough that the fence that has killed so many lives of her majestic race is the one that gives her the freedom….
    It is a shame that humans can’t see the connection between their actions and consequences.

    • Yes! The fence means that she will never have complete freedom to live and die as wild lions do, but at least she’ll have a measure of freedom and safety from humans!
      Yes again! We do not understand how we can call ourselves intelligent when we do the dumbest things to all the other animals around us.

      • My favourite scene from Saving Sirga is the ancient dance of San people. They knew how to live in nature with balance. Unlike the so called civilized humans who have screwed it up badly.

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