If you ask Shandor Larenty who his oldest friend is, he might tell you that it’s a 550-pound cat.
The 27-year-old has been best buddies with a lion named George for the last 10 years.
Larenty and George met when George was born at the Lion and Safari Park in Gauteng, South Africa.
Larenty, who is the park’s head of animal husb andry, has watched George grow from a little cub to a strong lion that’s the head of his own pride.
“It’s like watching a child grow up, or a younger sibling grow up, and it’s exactly the same feeling. George is similar to me in the sense that while he’s social, he also likes to be alone a lot,” Larenty told WalesOnline.
And George thinks highly of Larenty as well. He will leave his pride and walk right over to Larenty when he sees his buddy coming.
George will spend as much time as he can with Larenty, but not always.
“They have good days and bad days just like us. If I go in there and he doesn’t come running up, then I know it’s not going to happen,” he said.
On the good days, George likes getting lots of snuggles, foot rubs, and massages from Larenty.
Larenty will brush George’s mane and spend time playing with him at least once a day.
“He absolutely loves the fly repellent we make for him. He rolls around like a little kitten, and it’s his favorite time to get a massage, or a foot rub, he loves it,” Larenty said.
George even makes sure to protect Larenty. He even stood in between Larenty and his son when his son gave Larenty a “not happy” growl and came running toward him.
“From the left hand side came George’s lioness who grabbed him and from the right hand side George came running and knocked me to the side and grabbed him. It gave me time to get away,” Larenty said.
But that’s all part of the job and Larenty doesn’t take it personally.
“But I always used to say, at the end of the day, their natural instinct kicks in, so if one lion has a go at you, the others join in,” Larenty said.
Larenty and his friendship with George have captured the hearts of millions of social media fans.
Their TikTok videos regularly get thousands of views.
The page shows Larenty giving George and the other animals at the sanctuary smooches and just hanging out.
“You won’t see dance moves or things like that in it,” Larenty told News 24.
Larenty has a whopping 9.4 million followers and 97.8 million views on TikTok.
“I can think of times in my life where I was really struggling and the animals really helped me,” he said.
Larenty says his TikTok page is about his “animal family.”
“It’s fantastic to see how many of those who come here recognize the animals because of my videos. I want to create an awareness of the animals and show people how wonderful they are.”
Learn more about Larenty and George’s friendship in the video below.
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