Shandor Larenty, the South African animal trainer who has become a TikTok star, shared another video that quickly went viral on Sunday. Larenty celebrated his 26th birthday, so he shared a piece of cake with George the Lion. In the clip, Larenty rewards the lion with a piece of cake after it obeys his command to sit. The video has over 2 million views in just 24 hours.
"It’s my birthday! And there’s no better way to spend it than with George," Larenty wrote. Most of his TikTok followers were completely stunned to see that he trained a predator like a lion to sit. "MAN REALLY JUST MADE A LION SIT," one person wrote. "Dude taught a lion to sit," another wrote. "When a lion is more trained than some people's dogs," another person wrote, adding a laughing-with-tears emoji.
Larenty has over 7.2 million followers on TikTok, where he shares videos of himself interacting with the exotic animals at Lion & Safari Park in South Africa. He is originally from Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, England, reports The Daily Mail. He has called George his "best friend" in past videos. "Over the last 13 years I’ve built relationships with many animals, but George and I definitely have something special," Larenty told The Daily Mail. "He’s undoubtedly family. But In saying that, I also understand he’s a wild animal at the end of the day and totally respect the fact that he is a 250kg apex predator."
"People always ask how am I able to do this, and it’s a pretty simple answer," Larenty went on to explain. "I’ve dedicated my life to being with these animals and I’ve built very special relationships with them, and the relationship is based on a few simple things. Respect, patience, time and love."
What Larenty does is considered controversial. In 2019, South Africa's tourism association, SATSA, released guidelines criticizing the breeding of big game in captivity to train them for entertaining tourists. "It is unnatural for these animals to be in close proximity to humans," Keira Powers, chairperson of SATSA's Animal Interaction Committee, told Reuters in February 2020. "It is extremely stressful to be touched by humans and (have them) walking with them."
The guidelines are non-binding, and those who train the animals have defended what they do, including Larenty. He told Reuters last year he has been doing this for 13 years and would be "devastated" if he had to suddenly stop. "These guys are our family, we have a very strong emotional connection. You can see these guys want to be with me," Larenty said last year. "For someone to say, 'Hey, you can't do that anymore,' that's like someone saying to you: 'Hey I'm taking your children away.' This is my life."