By Danny Baggot @dan_baggy

CHARMING lion wrangler Shandor Larenty has exclusively revealed his top five favourite things about being an animal trainer

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Videographer / director: Nathan Pellow-Jarman
Producer: Danny Baggott, Ruby Coote   
Editor: Pete Ansell​

The dedicated 24-year-old, sometimes referred to as the ‘Lion King’, has managed to whittle down his long list of animal duties that he performs at the Lion And Safari Park, in South Africa. 

Shandor has become an expert in the wildlife department; interacting with lions, cheetahs, hyenas, giraffes and African wild dogs, to name a few, every day.

From feeding big cats that weigh up to 250kg, to cleaning up after them inside their enclosures, Shandor remains thankful that he can perform his ‘dream job’ – working to preserve the conservation of species and spread his positivity to the world. 

And Shandor’s ability to educate others about working with animals has ranked as his fifth most favourite thing about being an animal trainer.

A group of students follow Shandor’s every move at the park – learning all about animals like Cindy, the one-eyed cheetah.

Shandor told Beastly: “It means a lot to help change people’s perspectives on how amazing these animals really are.

“The biggest misconception people have is that they think all animals are cute and fluffy. So it’s about having a sense of respect.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things, seeing the sheer joy on their faces when they are able to interact with them once they learn that.

“It’s a big responsibility for me to work with students, because essentially, you are improving the conservation for tomorrow.

“Cindy only has one eye, a problem that is becoming bigger for cheetahs due to encroachment and them being pushed into bushier, denser areas where they wouldn’t naturally be found.

“They run into trees because they don’t have very good, close up, vision.

“Cindy was born in captivity and that’s why she is so comfortable around people.”

Shandor has placed feeding time with his animals at number four in his list, describing it as ‘fun’ and ‘messy.’

Feeding hungry animals can be a potentially dangerous task for any human, but Shandor makes it look easy - and he particularly enjoys treating his 11ft tall giraffe, Zack.

“Zack gets really excited over his food,” Shandor said.

“We’ve had Zack for about a year and a half now, since he was a baby. He started out as an orphan.

“He’s been on bottles of up to 22 litres of milk a day, but he’s slowly moving to solid foods now.

“Whenever you bring out food, no matter what the animal is, they always come running! It’s so funny to see.”

Shandor’s third favourite thing about being an animal trainer is that he gets to work with critically endangered species.

He said: “Getting to work with species like the African wild dog, it’s a really privileged experience.

“The wild dogs have a pack mentality, they have incredible personalities – really boisterous, really funny to watch and really awesome to work with.

“It’s vitally important to protect animals like this. If we don’t take action now, we are not going to see them in the wild – they will only exist in captivity.

“It’s so important to educate the kids of today, because that means educating the conservation of tomorrow.

“It’s all about creating awareness, we can’t change the past, but we can help to protect their future.”

At number two, Shandor has said that carrying on his family’s tradition is a crucial part of his work.

Alex Larenty, Shandor’s father, has been working with animals for close to 50 years and is delighted that his talented son is following in his footsteps.

Alex said: “Shatana the cheetah was one of the first animals Shandor interacted with on a movie set when he was just 13.

“When I first used to bring Shandor in with the lions, he was so small that he used to hide in the footwell.

“It’s been a natural progression – he’s got the heart for it. The most important thing is that the animals become your kids, your family.

“And Shandor recognised that early on. I’m very very proud of him and he’s going to go far.”

Shandor continued: “Growing up around animals and watching my dad do what I do now, has been probably one of the biggest reasons why I’ve continued the family legacy.

“It’s pretty awesome that me and my dad get to have the same career.”

And finally, Shandor’s absolute number one favourite thing about being an animal trainer is the fact that he gets to spend quality time with his favourite lion – George.

George was born at the park and Shandor has raised him for the last seven years,  forming an unbreakable bond that allows him to handfeed the 250kg big cat.

“This relationship isn’t something that’s formed overnight,” Shandor said.

“We’ve worked together for many, many years now. George is around seven, nearly eight years old – if he didn’t know me, I wouldn’t be able to get into his personal space. 

“He absolutely loves attention. He weighs around 250kg and just his weight alone is enough to push me over.

“Lions are definitely one of my favourite animals to interact with, but you have to fully understand every animal that you work with and their body language.

“They are wild animals and have the potential to kill you. You’re never in complete control. You have to keep that in mind and respect them.

“It’s so amazing to have the love that you show, reciprocated back to you by these animals.

“The passion that I have for them is something that cannot be taught.

“I’m very fortunate that I’m able to continue this work that I love so much.” 

Stay tuned to Beastly for more amazing content with Shandor, coming soon.