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A picture is worth a thousand words and a photo of Racine’s Zoo resident, Azizi, and regular visitor, Bella Trevino, leaves the community speechless.

The lion resident has a connection, like no other, with Trevino, who has Autism. Their human-animal bond was captured on camera by local photographer, Sarah Greening, of Sarah Greening Photography.

Bella, along with her mother Deanna Trevino, visited the Racine Zoo in September for a photo shoot with Greening.

The photographer explains the photoshoot’s location was selected at the Racine Zoo to accommodate Bella’s comfortability and interest.

Trevino, a 16-year-old from Racine, enjoys visiting the lions and giraffes at the Racine Zoo regularly.

“The zoo is her all-time favorite place,” said Deanna.

Azizi and Bella’s unforgettable moment

As the photoshoot began, the three women along with Bella’s therapist decided to head to the area where the lions reside.

As the group was walking to their destination, Deanna told Sarah, “every time we come here, this one lion always comes up to the glass when Bella gets there.”

Almost as if the mother’s words were on cue, Azizi, the 11-year-old matriarch of the Racine Zoo’s pride came to the glass.

“She was prancing, kind of galloping towards the glass, and then stopped. She (Azizi) started pawing at her (Bella), looked at her (Bella) in the eyes, and then she (Azizi) stood on her hind legs,” explained Greening.

The interaction led to the lion extending her paw on the glass and Bella lining up her palm on the other side of the glass.

“I’ve never witnessed anything like it before in my life. It was one of the most beautiful things and all I could think to do is ‘get as much as you can on camera’,” said the photographer.

Azizi stands on her hind legs and extends her paw to Bella Credit: Sarah Greening Photography

Finding her voice

Bella points at Azizi through the glass at the Racine Zoo. – Credit: Sarah Greening Photography

The young animal lover didn’t vocally comment on the lion’s interaction on the day of her photoshoot. Needless to say, Bella communicated with the lion, displaying what words couldn’t say.

Bella’s mother tells the Racine County Eye that she was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2. At 4 years old, she started speaking.

No matter where Bella has been in her life, animals have always been a favorite interest. Bella’s connection with Azizi has remained.

“For whatever reason,” Deanna said, “that lion and her – it’s just very much their thing.”

Positive interaction at Racine Zoo

While this particular lion has interacted with Bella before, there has never been a moment like the one caught on camera.

“(Azizi) enjoys watching visitors and her neighbor Naka the Amur tiger from her window,” said Amy Petersen, Racine Zoo’s Primary Carnivore Keeper.

Bella wasn’t the only one ready for her photoshoot. Azizi made the experience a pleasant one for all.

“It’s almost like they’re talking with each other without using words,” her mother said about the encounter.

Azizi is located in the Vanishing Kingdom/Great Cat Canyon. Facts about this African Lion can be learned on the Racine Zoo’s website.

Azizi looked at Bella as Bella smiles for a photo at the Racine Zoo. – Credit: Sarah Greening Photography

“It’s these close-up interactions that make the Racine Zoo special to so many individuals,” said Petersen.


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