Meet Shandor Larenty, a South African wildlife enthusiast who shares a deep bond with George, a hefty 550-pound lion. Their incredible friendship began a decade ago when George was just a cub at the Lion and Safari Park in Gauteng, South Africa, where Shandor leads the animal care team.
Every day, Shandor spends time playing and grooming George. Despite George growing from a small cub to the leader of his pride, he always cherishes his moments with Shandor. Their unique relationship often involves affectionate cuddles that leave onlookers in awe.
“For me, watching George grow has been like seeing a child mature,” says the 27-year-old Shandor. “It brings the same emotions.”
And it’s not just Shandor seeking out George; the bond is mutual. “Though George enjoys the company of his pride, he often chooses solitude. It’s heartwarming to see him leave his pride and come to me whenever I’m around,” Shandor adds.
Just like humans, lions too have their ups and downs, says Shandor. “If I approach and he doesn’t eagerly greet me, I understand that today might just not be the day.”
Shandor ensures that George receives his daily dose of pampering. From massages to brushing his mane, their bonding sessions are something George looks forward to every day.
“One thing he can’t get enough of is the fly repellent we’ve created for him. The moment it’s applied, he’s all playful, rolling around like an excited kitten. That’s also his hint that he’s in the mood for a massage or a foot rub. He simply adores it,” Shandor shares with a smile. (For a closer look at their heartwarming relationship, check out the video below…)
Shandor often mentions, “It’s important to remember that despite our bond, they’re wild animals and their instincts can prevail.” He recalled an incident with George’s son, who is part of the pride.
“Lions have distinct growls to convey their moods. That day, the growl was clearly one of displeasure. Without warning, he charged at me. Just as things looked dire, George’s lioness rushed from one side, intercepting him, while George himself charged from the other, pushing me out of the way as he tackled his son.”
“That intervention gave me a chance to escape.” Shandor reflects, “Such close encounters remind me of their wild nature, but also of our deep bond.”
Despite such challenges, Shandor sees many rewards in his unique relationship. “There’ve been times when life felt overwhelming, and it was these animals that pulled me through.”
Lately, Shandor and George have gained popularity on TikTok, with their heartwarming videos garnering hundreds of thousands of views.