Lions hug their owners and trainers in this roundup

By Alex Heigl
Updated November 06, 2013 10:00 PM

Lion-hugging: amazing new trend or dangerous hobby? While we in no way endorse you hugging or touching or even approaching a lion, we’re pretty smitten watching other people do so. Check out the five best.

Sirga the lioness embraces her rescuers

“The first time you walk up to a lion, all your body is telling you this is not something you should be doing,” Mikkel Legarth told the U.K.’s Daily Mail, and we’re inclined to agree. Legarth and Valentin Gruener founded the Modisa Wildlife Project in Botswana, Africa, intent on saving the lion population.

They came across Sirga (pictured above), who was one of three cubs in a pride on their land. The other two had been killed, and Sirga was abandoned without food. They rescued her, and now the three are the best of friends and are shacking up in a Brooklyn apartment together. (Okay, just kidding about that last part).

Jupiter the lion hugs it out through his bars

Villa Lorena, in southwestern Colombia, is an unusual animal sanctuary. Owned and operated by Ana Julia Torres, it specializes in animals confiscated from drug kingpins, death-squad commanders, smugglers and illegal circuses.

But Torres’ favorite is Jupiter, a 12-year-old lion who achieved lasting Internet fame when a gif of him hugging Torres through the bars of his enclosure was re-purposed as the ultimate in self-esteem boosters.

The Lion Whisperer gives us a POV of being embraced by lions

Kevin Richardson, a.k.a. The Lion Whisperer, is an animal behaviorist and filmmaker who has raised hackles by avoiding common training methods (i.e. whips and chains) for dealing with lions and hyenas, preferring to use “love, understanding, and trust to develop personal bonds with them.”

While this sounds vaguely suicidal and kind of terrifying, he’s the one rolling around on the savannah with lions, and we’re just watching it, so that shows what we know.

Marlice van Vuuren raises, hugs 15 lions

Marlice van Vuuren raised 15 orphaned lions on her parents’ farm in Namibia. That sentence alone is enough to give us pause (or, dare we say, paws), but as they outgrew their living space, van Vuuren teamed up with her Bushmen friends to travel across Namibia and find her growing lions new space to live and frolic and also eat things smaller than themselves. Except for her. She gets hugs. Obviously.

Christian the Lion is the OG of lion hugs

If you haven’t seen the Christian the lion video, we’re not really sure where you’ve been for the past five or six years, but we’ll recap for you.

In 1969, two swingin’ Londoners, John Rendall and Ace Bourke, bought a lion cub from Harrods (which, bizarrely, was legal at the time) and kept it in the basement of their furniture shop. Christian became a kind of local celebrity, but he eventually outgrew his home and was reintroduced to the wilderness of Kenya by lion-man (apparently a real job title) George Adamson.

Nine months later, in 1972, John and Ace went to visit Christian and see if he remembered them. He did, and the resulting footage is still one of the most heartwarming things ever.

You may be hugged-out, but if you’re not lioned-out, here’s some more of our favorite photos and videos of the King of the Jungle behaving like an affectionate housecat.