(Ep. 1/4) Who is the 'Lion Whisperer'? Getting to Know Kevin Richardson - the Man Behind the Mane

Ever dreamed of being best friends with a lion? Welcome to the life of Kevin Richardson AKA the ‘Lion Whisperer’.

Kevin Richardson with lion

📸 David Yarrow

I recently got in touch with Kevin to see if he'd be keen to help me raise awareness of the canned hunting industry. With some controversy online about Kevin's work and certain groups doubting his efforts in conservation, I was eager to get to know the man behind the stories. Kevin gave me nearly 2 hours of his time, and is one of the most genuine, respectful, and interesting people I've met in conservation. A top bloke who's undeniably doing fantastic things for wildlife conservation. In fact, we chatted for so long that I've had to break the interview into 4 parts, where we spoke in depth about his journey (Ep. 1), the canned hunting industry (Ep. 2), the conservation of lions and wildlife (Ep. 3), and the vilification of hyenas (Ep. 4). Enjoy and get to know the man behind the mane!

Josh: "Who is Kevin Richardson and how did you become the 'Lion Whisperer?’"

Kevin: "Sure, long story. About 22 years ago I got the opportunity to visit a lion park that wasn’t too far away from where I lived. As an animal lover from a young age, I thought this was a great opportunity to go check out. I met 2 great lion cubs by the names of Tau and Napoleon … and the rest is history! With them I was completely smitten and completely in awe of them, as most people who see lions are. I got hugely involved and it kind of changed my whole life.

Kevin Richardson with lions

📸 Jeroen Hoffman

The 'Lion Whisperer' title really came about many years afterwards, after I’d started a relationship and it was basically a title bestowed upon me by UK press. The more I tried to shrug it off and tell people I’m not that guy, the more it stuck. Ultimately my brother-in-law at one point in time said to me 'why are you rejecting that name? Why not just embrace it? It distinguishes you from other people' … and here we are."

Josh: “So, you didn’t want to nickname?!”

Kevin: “No actually I don’t like it even to this day. It’s never been something that I’ve felt comfortable with and I don’t like titles… I’m just Kevin Richardson.”

Josh: “You’ve got a really special relationship with the animals you work with. It would be great for our audience to know how you formed your unique relationship with lions & what they mean to you?”

“I think everything we do in life is about relationships. It’s either relationships with people or relationships with animals, and as a boy growing up I always wanted to see another side of the animals that I was interacting with - I never took it at face value. Whether it was a frog, a mouse, or a bird, I’d want to know what that was about. So, when it got to lions it was, so I’ve heard what lions are meant to be like but I wanted to see for myself. The more I started to work with Tau and Napoleon, the more I started to realise that what I heard wasn’t adding up. As they got bigger and bigger, I heard you can’t do this and mustn’t do that – but I thought to myself, this doesn’t make any sense! Because, if you truly have a relationship with them, as many people claim to do, then it shouldn’t affect the way you treat them and what you do with them. Whether they’re 2 years of age or older…

Kevin Richardson with lion

📸 Jackie Badenhorst

What I’m saying is, the relationships are complicated on another level and I didn’t go about my career or my life trying to prove people wrong about lions and their behaviour, it was merely that I saw a different side to these lions, and I saw that I could interact with them and form these bonds and relationships. One thing led to another until I was working with these big adult lions and we still had this good relationship.”

Josh: “I’m a huge fan of your Instagram @lionwhisperersa, and it’s incredible to see how close you’ve become with these animals”

Kevin: “That’s the key Josh, my thinking has evolved. You know it’s been 22 years, and the things I did back when I was 23 years of age, I certainly wouldn’t be doing now at 45. This is how we all learn and I think that’s the important point, but a lot of the people who do know me and understand my work, they do get that my work is based on very long relationships”

Josh: "Do you have a favourite moment from working with Lions?"

Kevin: "Yeah, look. Every day working with them is standout, so what you have to do on a daily basis is say to yourself - 'you’re very privileged and very lucky to be doing what you’re doing and you should never, ever take it for granted' … I think that is the truth. You know, so many times I see humans want something really badly and when they get it they think I’ve kind of conquered that, and then move onto the next thing. But these animals are not there for you to conquer. You form bonds and relationships with them and then you have a duty to protect them and to look after them.

Kevin Richardson with lions

📸 Virginia Quinn

I never quite understood or realised what I was getting involved with at that young age. At my age now at 45 if I had to go down that same road again… would I do this all over again? The answer might be no. But not based on the relationships that are formed over the years, it’s just the complexities of wildlife and conservation. Anything we do these days as human beings is really complicated, and I think it requires a lot more thought than one sometimes does at 23 years of age."

Josh: “You mentioned some people who didn’t want to work with you and I’ve seen a little controversy online from people who believe you shouldn’t work so closely with these animals. Often treating them like wild pets and they think there could be negative consequences of this - I was wondering what you’d say to these people?”

Well, a wild pet is a bit of a contradiction in terms haha. But, I’ve never treated lions as pets, number one. The criticism of getting up close and personal with the animals - what I always say to people is, let’s flip it on its head and say, well Josh, why are you interviewing me? And the answer to that is because of my relationship with lions. You wouldn’t be talking to me, and neither would so many other people, if I was just Kevin Richardson 'zookeeper' and I looked after some lions. ​​