The life of a house cat is one of the most coveted lifestyles. Belly rubs (when permitted), food on demand at the hint of a meow, and always a string dangling from somewhere to play with. Not to mention a willing human to provide all of it.

But this is not a post about a relationship with a domestic house cat. Nor can we call them pets: they’re wild African lions!

Yet for Kevin Richardson, the lions he interacts with seem more like domestic cats than ferocious kings of the jungle. They’re not tame or habituated, but Richardson has an extremely special bond with the lions nonetheless.

This incredible animal behaviorist has such extraordinary complicity with them and has been working with lions for over 11 years. Today he is a proud owner of a private game reserve outside of Johannesburg and a “pride member” of 39 lions!

He is affectionately referred to as the ‘Lion Whisperer’ because of his unique connection with these wild animals. A relationship that includes kisses, cuddles, and play-wrestling.

Read on to find out all about Kevin Richardson and his roaring relationship with one of Africa’s big cats.

Who is the Lion Whisperer?

Kevin Richardson YouTube channel

Who is the man that lions snuggle up to, purring their love and affection for him? Richardson isn’t the Mowgli type, raised in the wild with animals all around him. But rather he’s a South African-born city kid who grew up in the concrete jungle.

Not what you’d expect from lion man Kevin Richardson, is it? But the Johannesburg-based child who saved baby birds and concealed amphibians in his pockets found his way into the animal world. And all the way up to the King.

What started as a menial job at The Lion Park (now called The Lion & Safari Park) turned into a passion for cats and a mission to conserve the incredible species. He spent much of his working (and free) hours at Cub World in The Lion Park – a cub interaction and petting attraction.

Here he would wrestle the cubs, mimicking their playful tactics and creating his own roars and growls. He discovered that he was able to connect with the lions on a much deeper level than any of the other staff.

It was also here that Kevin became aware of the dark and dangerous side to cub petting which inspired his conservation mission. Today, he is an author, conservationist, documentary maker, and sanctuary owner. Above all, he is the Lion Whisperer.

How Did the Lion Whisperer Get His Name?

Richardson is not the first person to cozy up with dangerous wild animals. So why is he so special? Well, it only takes one look at Kevin Richardson’s videos to see his unique relationship with the animals.

He is no Tiger King zoo owner, patting the head of a caged animal with guns and sticks at the ready. Rather, Kevin approaches lions in wild territory and they greet him more like golden retrievers than apex predators. It is pure love and affection from both sides.

As a self-taught animal behaviorist, Richardson maintains that love, trust, and respect are the foundations of his relationship with the cats.

Commonly, the formation of a relationship between a human and a dangerous animal requires unsavory methods. Either an animal is hand-reared from birth, or the use of sticks and chains break the animal’s spirit making them submissive.

But Richardson’s unusual method allows him to lie down with the big cats, swim with them, and crouch down to eye-level to look into their faces.

This goes against everything in the animal handling world. These are vulnerable positions and do not reiterate an ‘alpha male’ sense of control. Yet Kevin Richardson’s lions seem calm in his presence.

The Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary

The Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary - Lion Whisperer Website

Lion Whisperer, Kevin Richardson, is on a personal mission to protect Africa’s carnivores. He focuses on working to minimize the number of animals in captivity. But most importantly, he wants to highlight the link between cub petting and ‘canned’ hunting.

The sanctuary is in Welgedacht Private Game Reserve within Dinokeng Game Reserve. It aims to provide animals with a natural and open environment for predators to live. It does not breed any predators and is, therefore, home to mostly adult lions and hyenas.

The Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary works toward outlawing cub petting, as well as educating the public about the harmful consequences.

Cub petting

Lion cub 'whispering' something in his mother's ear

Cub petting is a favorite activity of both domestic and international tourists in South Africa. People flock to ‘sanctuaries’ to physically interact with lion cubs under the guise of supporting conservation.

Little do these visitors know that they are doing much more harm than good. These practices support breeding animals into captivity for profit. As soon as cubs become too old to safely pet, they live the rest of their lives in cages or become targets of canned hunting.

The animals in sanctuaries that allow petting are victims of exploitation for financial gain. The likelihood of these animals getting reintroduced to the wild is almost zero.

Fast Facts About Kevin Richardson, The Lion Whisperer

  • He has a major in BSc Anatomy and Physiology.
  • He is a globally recognized conservationist, filmmaker, and author.
  • His book Part of the Pride entails his unbelievable work as the Lion Whisperer.
  • His documentaries and feature films include Killer IQ: Lion vs Hyena, Wildcats 3D, Lions on the Move, and more!
  • Richardson did a series for National Geographic Wild, called The Lion Ranger.
  • He was a guest speaker at Google Zeitgeist, alongside influential speakers including former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
  • Kevin’s conservation efforts include the successful release of captive-born spotted hyena into the Dinokeng Big 5 Game Reserve – a major achievement.
  • Visit the Kevin Richardson website if you’re keen on learning even more.

Lion Play Time with Kevin Richardson

Kevin Richardson Swimming with Lions

Kevin Richardson’s Lion Language

He rolls around and wrestles with full-grown lions, kisses their faces, and sleeps next to them. Some people consider him mad. But most have accepted that the Lion Whisperer has a relationship with the animals unlike anything ever seen before.

Kevin Richardson’s lion language abilities have allowed him to create a unique bond with one of Africa’s most feared predators. He is using this relationship to work towards meaningful conservation goals through education, media, and a wildlife sanctuary.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are struggling to get attention from our house cats.

You may not be a lion whisperer and big cat cuddles are out of the question. But if you book a safari you’ll have the opportunity to see these awesome animals in their natural habitat, which is the next best thing.