The lion may be known as “the king of the jungle,” but 11-year-old Zion is nothing but a loving sweetheart to his caretaker Frikkie Von Solms, a 69-year-old man who lives and cares for big cats in southern Africa. Born to a lioness named Simba, Zion was separated from his parents as a cub due to fears that his hostile father would kill him. Von Solms stepped in to raise the young lion, bottle-feeding him and letting him sleep in his bed. As a result, Zion grew into a gentle, friendly soul who is now too domesticated to be able to return to the wild.
While Von Solms has also cared for 19 other lions and leopards, his relationship with Zion is especially close and marked by mutual trust and affection. They spend their time driving together in the caretaker's truck, going on hunts, and spending hours walking side-by-side on dusty tracks together, Von Solms holding Zion's tail while the lion keeps close to him. The caretaker even makes sure to take off his shoes before taking a stroll with Zion, as the sweet-tempered lion is bothered by noise. With over a decade of history between them, Zion and Von Solms share a heartwarming friendship that shows off the unique bond between a man and his lion.
Von Solms tells the Daily Mail, “It was a once in a lifetime experience to grow up with him and learn and live with him through all of the stages of being a lion. People talk about lions like they are just lions but they have personalities, they have humour and laugh. Zion is a gentle giant. He has never attacked humans and I trust him completely.”