Ever seen a man walk safely into the middle of a colossal pride of lions? How about a man who fearlessly surrounds himself with massive predators?
As if he’s playing with a domestic cat, Alex Larenty cuddles a 250-kilogram wild lion, grooms his mane and holds up his massive paw to massage it. The lions love him, and he has become world famous for his up-close-and-personal relationship with the wild cats; so close that he can literally describe the shape of their teeth in detail.
Alex has worked with wild animals his entire life having grown up in the Chipperfield Circus family who were the first to open the Lion Park in 1967. Alex has been there from the start, and is in fact a second-generation animal trainer. His mother, Doreen Duggan, was the first manager of the park and worked with many large, exotic animals. So you could say it is something that runs in the family, although Alex owes his unique personal interaction with his lions to mutual trust, having reared many of them from birth. Today he is the head animal behaviourist and trainer at the Lion Park and has been doing what he loves most there for the past 14 years.
Visit the Lion Park and meet highly skilled Lion Wrangler, Alex Larenty.
Alex not only works with big cats but also with other animals such as elephants, bears, tigers, chimpanzees, horses, and camels, making him the perfect candidate to head up the Lion Park’s filming department too.
The Lion Park is the third-of-its-kind in the world and Alex describes it as the 'McDonalds of the bush' – it’s an easy way of getting people right up close to the animals. “It’s especially for city folk who can’t get to the parks, so we bring the animals to them and give them a chance to see some species that are rarely seen at all in the wild,” he says. It is because of this – and because it's so accessible – that the Lion Park has become one of South Africa’s top attractions.
When did you first realise you have an affinity with wild animals, particularly lions?
Having grown up with wild animals my entire life it’s something that just seemed to come naturally to me. Although I have worked with lions in the past, I have only specialised in them over the past 15 years.
Are you self-taught or did you formally learn about these wild animals?
I was lucky enough to have learned not only from my mother but from some of the pioneers in the world of wild cats – who were some of the first to do the things I do day-to-day with my cats.
How would you describe your job?
“Best job in the world” comes pretty close – it’s fun, yet challenging at times. One thing is for sure – you never have two days that are the same.
What personal qualities does one require to do a job of this nature?
One of the main things you need to have is a sixth sense. Some people use theirs for business, I use mine with animals. It’s something you can’t acquire or learn; it just comes naturally.
How do you play a role in the continued plight of the wild?
At the Lion Park we use the term ‘conservation through education’. Without education there is no conservation.
How do you feel about keeping wild animals in circuses and zoos? Does it help or hinder in environmental education?
I think the days of circuses are over, but if done correctly zoos can play a vital role in genetic sustainability programmes.
Although you have great rapport with big cats, there must be a time when you were injured by one, or when one scared you. Can you share anything on that?
The only time I’ve been bitten was by a rough woman on the other side of town!
What is the biggest misconception about wild cats?
The fact that people think they are kitty cats. These are wild animals and will always have that wild instinct.
Don’t miss out on the Alex Larenty tour at the Lion Park.
Booking is essential