A 12-year-old Ethiopian girl was saved from a potentially terrible fate by a group of three lions.

The child was abducted by several men on her way to school and had been missing for a week. They had beaten her severely and tried to force her into marrying one of them.

Eventually, her captors were chased off by the pride of lions.

“They stood guard until we found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back into the forest,” Sgt. Wondimu Wedajo told the Associated Press.

Wedajo said that the lions saved her from a far worse fate.

“If the lions had not come to rescue her, then it could have been much worse,” he said. “Often these young girls are raped and severely beatn to force them to accept the marriage.”

Even government officials in Ethiopia are astonished by lions’ magical intervention.

“Everyone thinks this is some kind of miracle because normally the lions would attack people,” Wedajo said.

Local wildlife officials say it could have been the girl’s cries that saved her as she could have been mistaken for a lion cub.

“A young girl whimpering could be mistaken for the mewing sound from a lion cub, which in turn could explain why they didn’t eat her,” wildlife expert Stuart Williams, who is with the rural development ministry, told NBC News.

Game hunter Col. Lemma Legesse says this probably isn’t true and the lions were just waiting to attack.

“They were probably preparing to eat her but were intercepted by the police and others,” he told AFP news agency.

Ethiopia’s lions, which are famous for their black manes, are a rare sight as Williams estimates there to only be about 1,000 of them left in the wild. Their diminishing numbers are due to poaching as their skins can go for at least $1,000 each.

Authorities say that the girl was given medical treatment for the cuts she received during her abduction which left her “shocked and terrified.”

Four of the assailants have been captured while three are still at large.

Unfortunately, kidnapping is a common practice in Ethiopia. It is considered to be a marriage custom in that is practiced in rural areas where most of the country’s 71 million people reside.

The United Nations estimates that more than 70 percent of marriages in Ethiopia are caused by abduction.

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