Kevin Richardson (zookeeper)

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Kevin Richardson
Kevin Richardson next to a jaguar.jpg
Kevin Richardson submitting to a jaguar
Born (1974-10-08) 8 October 1974 (age 45)
NationalitySouth African
Other names"The Lion Whisperer"
OccupationSanctuary owner

Kevin Rene Richardson (born 8 October 1974), known as "The Lion Whisperer",[1] is a South African YouTube personality and self-taught sanctuary owner who works with African lions.

Early life[edit]

Kevin Richardson was born in the Nightingale Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa, on the 8th of October, 1974. He spent his childhood in the neighbourhood of Orange Grove.[2] His mother, Patricia, worked for Barclays Bank and was also born in South Africa. Richardson's father, who worked for a pharmaceutical company, was born in the United Kingdom and moved to South Africa from Reading, Berkshire. Kevin Richardson is the youngest of four children: he has an older brother and two sisters who are twins.[3] His father died when Richardson was thirteen years old. When he was about sixteen, he met Stan Schmidt and began his career as a "self-taught behaviourist."[2]


Kevin Richardson owns and operates the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary, located an hour northeast of Johannesburg, South Africa. Richardson is a firm opponent of "canned hunting", which is the hunting of lions locked within an enclosed location, making them easier to hunt and kill. To help combat this problematic epidemic, he has a strict no breeding policy at his sanctuary to reduce the likelihood of his lions being bought and sold for that very purpose.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Richardson's sanctuary is his relationship with his lions, which include popular characters such as Meg, Amy and Bobcat. Kevin is known for interacting with them within the confines of his sanctuary, and on long enrichment walks throughout the game reserve. Unlike other game reserves and sanctuaries, Richardson does not allow his guests to go on these lion walks with him, as he knows that while his lions are well behaved for him, they are still dangerous animals, and the wild nature within will always be there. [4]

"It comes as a shock to most people that lions are incredibly at risk with less than 20,000 left in the wild and numbers dropping year on year. Wild lions aside, captive lions suffer equally with three lions shot daily in a canned hunt – a practice which forms part of an elaborate economic cycle that capitalizes on the breeding of lions as if they were cattle. Well-meaning, but naïve tourists flock to South Africa each year to bottle feed or pet lion cubs believing they are contributing to the conservation of the species. This is a terrible deception and if a tourist facility is breeding lion cubs and allowing tourists to pet them – they are almost certainly part of the canned lion hunting network." --- Kevin Richardson, September 2019 [5]


Richardson worked in a 650 hectares (1,600 acres) Lion Park in Broederstroom, a town 35 miles north of his hometown, Johannesburg, in South Africa. Whilst primarily specializing in lions, he has also interacted with hyenas and black panthers.[6][7] The park, which was set up with the help of Rodney Fuhr,[4] is 800 hectares (2,000 acres) and was built for the set of the movie White Lion.[7] Richardson cares for thirty-nine lions at this facility.[8] Currently, the facility is private, but there are plans in the future to open it to the public.[9] However, the sanctuary is open for guided group tours and has a large volunteering program as of 2014.[10]

As of 2015, the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary relocated to Welgedacht Private Game Reserve near Pretoria.[11]

Lion care[edit]

Kevin Richardson with lions

He has slept next to, fed, and lived with lions. He has also worked with cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas. He prefers lions to any other big cat.[12] His relationship with the animals, however, has not been an instant one. He has known all of the lions he works with since they were cubs.[13] He still continues his bond with Tau and Napoleon, the lion brothers who were his introduction to big cats.[4]

Despite his prior involvement in lion cub petting, Richardson rejects the traditional notion that lions should be mastered and dominated, preferring to develop a relationship over time, based on love and respect. "A lion is not a possession; it's a sentient being, so you must pay attention and develop your bond like with any relationship."[14]


Richardson has been scratched, punctured and bitten but is not dissuaded by these dangers. In an interview, he mentions, "Obviously one realizes the danger when working with animals of this calibre, I've weighed the pros and I've weighed the cons, and the pros far outweigh the cons." He warns about following in his footsteps, however. All the pictures of his adventures do not portray his years of experience and bonding. "People like to take things out of context. They don't know the relationship I have with this lion." As a rule, Richardson only interacts with lions he has been with since their birth.[13]

Richardson also differentiates his work from that of zoologists interacting with completely wild animals they have not raised, or that of trainers whose animals are required to perform on stage day after day.[15]


Richardson once worked as a lion handler for the lion park that featured in a 2014 segment of the CBS program 60 Minutes, which revealed that the Lion Park in Lanseria bred lions to ensure a supply of cubs year-round. When the lions reached maturity, they were shipped out to canned hunting operations because they were too dangerous to be near tourists.

Richardson left the park when he discovered the true intentions of the park owner, as he opposes canned hunting.[16][17]


Title Minutes/Pages Features Produced/Published Release Date
Dangerous Companions 52 Minutes Lions Unknown 2005
Growing Up Hyena Part of Growing Up Series Spotted hyenas Animal Planet 5 August 2008 (DVD)
In Search of a Legend 52 Minutes Black leopard Graham Wallington Unknown
White Lion: Home is a Journey 88 Minutes White lion Peru Productions 19 February 2010
Part of the Pride: My Life Among the Big Cats of Africa 256 Pages Kevin Richardson St. Martin's Press 1 September 2009
Lights, Camera, Lions! 52 Minutes Lions Nationwide Distributors 2010
The Lion Ranger Series 3 x 60 Minutes Various Renegade Productions March 2010
Lions on the Move 2 x 53 Minutes + 1 x 90 Minutes Various Terra Mater Factual Studios 2012
African Safari 3D 1 Hr 25 Minutes Various StudioCanal 2013
GoPro: Lions - The New Endangered Species? 14 Minutes Lions, Hyenas GoPro November 2013
Killer IQ – Lion vs Hyena 2 x 46 Minutes Lions, Hyenas Smithsonian Channel 2014
Wild Cats 3D 39 Minutes Various nWave Pictures Distribution 2015
Predator Road Trip 2 Episodes Various Smithsonian Channel 2016
Kevin Richardson with hyenas

Richardson has been featured in many documentaries, movies, and commercials. It was during his stint at the Lion Park that Michael Rosenberg decided to use Richardson in documentaries such as Dangerous Companions and In Search of a Legend. Growing Up Hyena is a documentary in which Richardson sets out to change the misconception of the hyena as a feared and loathed scavenger.[18] Richardson's work in the Okavango Delta and Lydenberg had brought forth the documentary concerning black leopards entitled In Search of a Legend. Because of the frequency of filming, Richardson moved all of the animals to one facility at the Kingdom of the White Lion property.

Richardson's 2010 documentary is entitled White Lion: Home is a Journey. The film is about a young white lion named, "Letsatsi," who survives against all odds.[3] This film is the first to star native lions instead of the regularly imported ones. Rodney Fuhr and his wife, Ilana, independently funded the movie and served as executive producers. The film was shot at the Kingdom of the White Lion, SA Lion Park, Nash's farm, Glen Afric, and Entabeni Game Reserve. The South African-based company Peru Productions Pty. Ltd.'s first feature film was White Lion.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Orlean, Susan (June 2015). "What Makes the 'Lion Whisperer' Roar?". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Reach for a Star: Kevin Richardson". Reach for a Star. SA Career Focus Magazine. February 2009. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  3. ^ a b Caskie, Rob. "Kevin's Youth". Speaker: Kevin Richardson. Motivators International. Archived from the original on 9 October 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  4. ^ a b c Kevin Richardson (2009). Part of the Pride: My Life Among the Big Cats of Africa. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-55674-8.
  5. ^ "Kevin Richardson: The Problem Facing Africa's Lions". Craghoppers Community. 27 September 2019. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  6. ^ "The Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson". Zimbio. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  7. ^ a b c "About the White Lion Movie". Archived from the original on 27 April 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  8. ^ flashnews. "The Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson". Zimbio. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  9. ^ "Can we see Kevin interacting with the animals?". FAQ. Archived from the original on 16 January 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  10. ^ "Wildlife Sanctuary". The Lion Whisperer. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  11. ^ "Wildlife Sanctuary's - About". Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  12. ^ "The Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson". Archived from the original on 14 October 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  13. ^ a b Celizic, Mike. "Big cats purr like kittens for 'Lion Whisperer'". Today: Pets and Animals. MSNBC. Archived from the original on 26 September 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  14. ^ Crerar, Simon (12 April 2013). "Kev takes pride being mane man - Amazing photos give you paws for thought". The Courier Mail (Australia). p. 23.
  15. ^ Crerar, Simon (13 April 2013). "Meet The Lion Whisperer, the animal behaviourist reinventing zoology". Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  16. ^ "Fatal Lion Mauling Highlights Controversy of Private Reserves". National Geographic. 2 March 2018. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  17. ^ "Walking with lions: why there is no role for captive-origin lions Panthera leo in species restoration". 1 January 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  18. ^ "Animal Planet - Growing up Hyena". Animal Planet. Retrieved 26 January 2011.

External links[edit]