Article from: (1 July 2007)
HE sleeps with lions, wrestles with cheetahs and hugs hyenas - meet the "Lion Whisperer". Thirty-two-year-old Kevin Richardson spends his days - and nights - curled up with massive cats as part of his job at The Lion Park, at Lanseria, outside Johannesburg.And the pictures are awesome.
The South African lion whisperer has a natural affinity with some of the most dangerous animals on the planet, many of whom he names and raises by hand from birth.
"I don't use sticks, whips or chains - just patience,'' he says.
"It may be dangerous, but this is a passion for me, not a job.
"I have to rely on my instincts to gauge an animal or a situation, and I will not approach a creature if something doesn't feel right.''
Mr Richardson began working with big cats - and particularly lions and hyenas - 10 years ago after quitting his career in physiology, where he worked with patients who had undergone surgery.
He wants to educate people about the big cats in a bid to save these beautiful animals.
Part of his approach is to bond intimately with the animals and they learn to treat him as a member of their pride.
"They see me as a creature they have adopted. I have also been an adopted parent in a lot of instances,'' Mr Richardson recently told South African television show Carte Blanche.
"I am someone they relate to. I enrich their lives. When I come here it's fun: we take all these animals out into the big, open spaces. If these animals are going to be kept in a captive situation, don't they deserve to have the best care, the best entertainment, the best lives?''
Mr Richardson's job is inherently dangerous. The lions at Lanseria often weigh more than 220kg and the hyenas, which are notoriously unpredictable, have the ability to bite through thick steel.
And all the big cats are fiercely protective of their young - but Mr Richardson has few fears.
"With all the animals I'm near the top (in dominance terms). You have got to be near the top. The moment they see you as a lower-order figure, they will challenge you,'' he said.
They are just great big kitties after all.
I bought some garfish and small squid from the fish markets for dinner. They were very nice.