Have you ever wished you could have a wild animal best friend, like the heroes and heroines of Disney movies? We do, too. Cats and dogs are awesome, but sometimes you just wish you had a tiger, you know?
As it turns out, this is not an impossible wish, but it is one that takes years of training, dedication, and careful planning. These people from all parts of the world actually accomplished this wish, and get to spend time with some of the most majestic — and dangerous — animals on the planet.
Shaun Ellis from Devon, England, integrated himself into a pack of wolves to help them reintegrate into the wild.
They like to pull his hair. Ellis takes on the part of a wolf himself, often howling and growling alongside them.
Mark Dumas is an animal trainer, and his best friend is Agee, an 800-pound polar bear.
They like to swim, nap, and roll around in the grass. Dumas adopted her from an overcrowded zoo at eight weeks old, so she’s always been a “domestic” bear. She’s also been trained to perform in movies and TV. Since she can’t live in the wild, this work is vital to keeping her stimulated.
Michael Jamison shares his home in South Africa with a Bengal and a Siberian tiger (as well as several dogs and cats).
The Siberian, Ozzy, is a rescue with some bone deformities in his legs. He’ll have corrective surgery when he’s a bit older.
Jim and Linda Sautner of Alberta, Canada, have a buffalo that they transport in a topless Buick.
Bailey the Buffalo, Jr. is his name, and you’d think this image was from a cop TV show starring these two as they fight crime.
Sirga the lioness lives with her daddies, Valentin Gruener and Mikkel Legarth, in Botswana as part of the Modisa Wildlife Project.
Sirga was driven out of her pride as a cub, and she was rescued by Gruener and Legarth. Today, they’re helping her learn to hunt and survive, and she thanks them with hugs.
Doug and Lynne Seus of Herber Valley, Utah, use their ranch for bears.
As a bear trainer, Doug Seus worked with Bart the Bear, a 1,500-pound Kodiak that starred in many films with actors like Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt. He passed away in 2000, and today, the Seuses work with his namesake, Bart 2, or “Little Bart,” an Alaskan brown bear.
In Florida, Janice Haley considers her two Bengal tigers to be part of the family.
Raised in captivity, these tigers can’t return to the wild. Janda and Saber, 400 and 600 pounds respectively, live in her backyard in a large enclosure. Haley also works to educate people on tigers and raise awareness about their endangerment.
To help save the species, Veryl Goodnight and Roger Brooks adopted and raised two buffalo in their Colorado home.
“Don’t mind me, I’m just looking for the remote.”
Speaking of large beasties in the home, Tonie and Shirley Joubert live with Jessica, their hippo friend, in South Africa.
Jessica was rescued by the Jouberts in 2000, when they found her at only a few hours old. The poor creature lost her mother in that year’s major flooding in South Africa and Mozambique. She’s been living with them ever since, and is part of the family. Jessica also spends time with wild hippos.
Kevin Richardson of “Lion Whisperer” fame is known for being buddies with lions, but his love extends to hyenas, too.
At his South African animal sanctuary, the Kingdom of the White Lion, Richardson manages 39 lions and a handful of hyenas.
We don’t advise running out and trying to make friends with the first wild animal you see (stick to adopting rescues), but stories like these are pretty amazing. They show us that we’re not so different from other animals, and that it’s possible for us to get along and share the planet with these incredible creatures.