Kevin Richardson is known as the Lion Whisperer. Step into his world at the Welgedacht Private Game Reserve in South Africa and you'll soon discover why.
Richardson, a zoologist and animal behaviorist, calls out the names of lions and they come running to him. He hugs them, plays with them, rubs their bellies. He swims with them and is even comfortable sleeping next to them.
This special bond was developed not from fear, like the methods used by a circus lion tamer. Instead, it emanates from love, understanding, trust, and respect.
"The Lion Whisperer's secret—get to know the particular personality of each animal, what makes them angry, happy, upset, irritated—just like a mother with a child," the Kevin Richardson, Lion Whisperer Facebook page explains.
The lions are wild and won't necessarily treat other humans the same way as they treat Richardson. Undoubtedly, that is why he instructs visitors to remain in the jeep as he interacts with the lions.
This relationship between Richardson and the lions—and even hyenas—is detailed in the latest GoPro HERO3+ Adventure Series video. Though a bit lengthy at 14 minutes, it's a fascinating look into Richardson's world, one in which his goal is to bring awareness to the plight of the African lion. Take a look:
Richardson has been working with the wild animals for more than 10 years. The Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary is part of the 3,200-acre Welgedacht Private Game Reserve, located an hour northeast of Johannesburg.
The sanctuary has 13 predator enclosures, and the animals are rotated through them every couple of weeks to change their environments and stimulate their senses.
"People around the world still think Africa is this place teeming with game," Richardson says on the video.
Yet the lion population occupies less than 20 percent of its former range in Africa, and numbers are estimated between 15,000 to 30,000, according to Richardson's website.
"When a species disappears from a habitat, one's got to look at why," Richardson says. "Talk about any species and you've got the same dilemma: habitat loss. Habitat, habitat, habitat. Even reserves like us, the area is not big enough…
"The whole of lions are not doing well. They've decreased, declined down to miserable numbers. I'm trying my damnedness to create awareness.
"People see me interacting with the lions and I think they start to think, 'Well, gee, imagine Africa without lions.'"
What Richardson would like to see disappear are the cub petting and canned hunting industries.
"The sanctuary's ultimate goal is to minimize the number of large carnivores being kept in captivity and to highlight the direct link between the cub petting industry and the 'canned' hunting industry by educating the unsuspecting public to the horrors associated with this unscrupulous practice," Richardson says on his website.
"The Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary's mission is to provide a self-sustaining African carnivore sanctuary for the purposes of wild species preservation through education, awareness, and funding, especially pertaining to the rapid decline of large carnivores in Africa due to habitat loss, human-predator conflict, unscrupulous hunting, disease, and their illegal trade."
Richardson says that "if we carry on along the same path, we will not see lions in 20 years."
The incredible bond Richardson has developed with lions is similar to the ones formed by conservationists Valenin Gruener and Mikkel Legarth, who are also seeking to save the lion population.
After the uproar a hunting celebrity caused earlier this week by posting a photo of her posing with a trophy lion she had shot, the story about Richardson and his special relationship/work with lions is certainly refreshing, and couldn't come at a better time.
"Thank you Kevin Richardson for all the wonderful work you do for African wildlife," Roslyn Briggs wrote on his Facebook post about the video. "Every time I watch you I smile, laugh, and cry. We all need to protect these gorgeous animals."
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