At Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park in Wynnewood, Okla., about 70 miles south of Oklahoma City, one very big kitty spends his days playing and snuggling with some unusual friends.
Bonedigger might be a 500-pound majestic lion with an intimidating name, but this formidable feline is really just a softie at heart when it comes to his bunkmates — four Dachshunds.
Joe Schreibvogel, commonly known by the name Joe Exotic, is an animal expert, advocate, and spokesperson for the zoo. Exotic explains the big cat and his wiener dog buddies all grew up together.
When Bonedigger arrived at the zoo as a tiny 4-week-old cub, Exotic decided to try something a bit unconventional — he introduced his four young Dachshund pups to the pint-sized lion cub one day, hoping to provide some friends for the lonely lion. Exotic never could have expected the unbreakable bond Bonedigger would forge with his canine companions. Five years later and five years older, Bonedigger and his Doxie pack are inseparable.
Bonedigger isn’t just unusual because of his choice in chums. When the giant lion was just a cub, he was diagnosed with a debilitating metabolic bone disease, a condition that has left him mildly disabled. Exotic believes it is partially because of his disability that Bonedigger has connected so strongly with the Dachshunds.
Videos of Bone and his buddies, which Exotic posts to Joe Exotic TV on YouTube, have taken the web by storm. One video, which shows 11-pound Dachshund Milo licking his lion compadre’s teeth, has been viewed nearly 40,000 times since it was uploaded May 17. And another video of the happy friends playing in their zoo enclosure, posted only last month, has earned a whopping 134,000 views.
While Bonedigger is close with all of the dogs, who eat the same raw meat diet as their lion brother, snuggle up to him at night and even mimic his lion roar, Doxies Angel and Milo are especially dear to the docile cat. And Bone is very protective of his pals, Exotic says.
“You do not ever try to take his dogs out of the yard,” Exotic explains. “It makes him very mad. They sleep on top of him.”
The unlikely quintet has also taken a special interest in Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park manager, John Reinke. When Reinke lost both of his legs in a catastrophic bungee jumping accident, Bonedigger and his pride of Doxies seemed to rally around the zoo manager, developing a special friendship.
“They all know that Bone and John are [handicapped],” Exotic says of his Dachshunds. “I just wish people had this kind of heart for one another.”