Sofia, the 3-year-old lion tamer

By Amelia Wade

Sofia the lion tamer. Photo / Youtube
Sofia the lion tamer. Photo / Youtube

A little girl bravely stood her ground as a grumpy lion showed her what he thought of her interrupting his breakfast at Wellington Zoo.

In a video uploaded to YouTube, Sofia Walker, 3, was dwarfed by Malik, a 7-year-old "stroppy" lion, as she pressed up against the glass that separated her from the enclosure.

The close encounter happened last Wednesday morning, just after Malik had been given his breakfast.

Sofia and Malik looked directly at each other before the lion angrily pawed at the glass - upset someone disturbed his meal - which seemed to surprise the young girl, but not scare her.

Sofia was called away from the glass by her mother, Sharon, but instead the girl stood her ground and asked: "What's he telling me?"

The odd pair had another staring contest before Malik again pounded at the glass, with Sofia pressed up against it.

Sofia visits the zoo with her parents and brother, Dominic, 2, at least once a month.

Her father Julian, who uploaded the video, said his daughter was unfazed by Malik.

"She's always had this quiet confidence with animals, but she's certainly more confident with a lion than I would be, that's for sure," Mr Walker said.

"When we talk to her about it, it's like she's almost moved on. We tell her that she was very brave and she's watched the clip over and over, but all up I don't think it's really affected her."

Malik, who turns 8 in April, is one of five lions at Wellington Zoo, with his brother Zulu, and three females, Djane, Djembe and Zahra.

Wellington Zoo team leader of carnivores and primates Paul Hatton said he thought the most incredible thing about the footage was how big Malik was.

"He's massive and you sometimes forget how big he is until you see a picture of him right up next to a small child. He's a big character."

Mr Hatton said Malik was a dark-natured lion who was quite stroppy and let you know if he didn't like something - especially if someone got in the way of his food.

"They don't like to share, lions."

Despite the lion's ill temper, Mr Hatton said he'd seen something like this happen only once before with the male lions.

"[Sofia] came across as a bit of a rock star, didn't she? She's just got a bit of spunk and doesn't really seem to mind too much. There were a couple of moments where she was a little bit surprised, which is fair enough completely, but she didn't seem too bothered."

But despite Sofia's calm around intimidating animals, she doesn't have any aspirations to become a zoo-keeper at this stage, her father said. She'd much rather be a fairy.

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