Kevin Richardson (zookeeper)

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

Kevin Richardson
Kevin Richardson next to a jaguar.jpg
Kevin Richardson submitting to a jaguar
Born (1974-10-08) 8 October 1974 (age 46)
NationalitySouth African
Other names"The Lion Whisperer"
OccupationSanctuary owner

Early lifeEdit

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]


Richardson went to college and studied zoology, but quit following two years of repetitive lessons on marine biology instead of mammals. As an adult, Richardson believed that he would never have a career working with animals and that it would remain a hobby of his. He started taking courses in physiology and anatomy in college[4] and started a career in exercise physiology[5] and became an exercise physiologist. When he was twenty-three, he had the opportunity to work as a handler and cared for two six-month-old lion cubs, Tau and Napoleon which he later rescued. His early years took place at the Lion Park near the outskirts of his home in Johannesburg.[6] He still runs with the now full grown cubs in the wild.[4] The facility owner, Rodney Fuhr, started him off with a part-time job at the Lion Park.[6]

Richardson and his team work with animals for the commercial filming industry and make documentaries to generate income to fund the facility. They also have a volunteer programme which generates income, and volunteers who help to run the sanctuary.[4]


Richardson worked within 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.[7][8] 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 2010 movie White Lion.[8] Richardson cares for thirty-nine lions at this facility.[9] As of 2011 the facility was private, but there were plans to open it to the public.[10] The sanctuary's Web site said in 2020 that it was open for guided group tours and had a volunteering program.[11]

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

Lion careEdit

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.[5] 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."[13]


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 caliber, 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.[5]

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.[14]


Richardson 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.[15] The Lion park has been criticised for allowing lion petting [16] and for supplying lions to the canned lion industry.[15] He has also been criticised by many in the conservation community, members of whom state that experiences which expressly bring people and lions together on "walks" are risky because of the unpredictable nature of the wild animals. Richardson's role as a conservationist was also questioned with experts stating that more care was needed in private reserves to ensure they mirror what has been developed in national parks.[17] Conservationists Luke T.B. Hunter, Paula White, Philipp Henschel, and Laurence Frank, in a 2012 article titled "Walking with lions: why there is no role for captive-origin lions Panthera leo in species restoration", concluded that parks in Africa with plans to reintroduce lions into the wild including Richardson's had yet to do so as of 2013 and found little of conservation value that justifies the use of captive-origin lions for reintroduction.[18]

February 2018 fatal attackEdit

On 27 February a young woman was mauled to death in the Dinokeng Game Reserve by a lioness that was under his care. Richardson lost track of the lioness when she pursued an impala for some 2 kilometres (1.2 mi), whereupon the lioness assaulted the day visitor to the reserve.[19][20] Wildlife biologist Luke Dollar responded to the killing in an article by National Geographic, stating that "behaviors and programs that skirt the reality of our place in the food chain seem to be an accident waiting to happen."[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.[21] 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 produced the 2010 documentary White Lion: Home is a Journey,[22] about a young white lion, "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.[8]

See alsoEdit


  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 d e Kevin Richardson (2009). Part of the Pride: My Life Among the Big Cats of Africa. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-55674-7.
  5. ^ a b c 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.
  6. ^ a b "The Lion Whisperer: Kevin Richardson plays with white lions at a game park in South Africa". The Lion Whisperer. London: The Telegraph. 15 October 2010. Archived from the original on 18 October 2010. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  7. ^ "The Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson". Zimbio. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  8. ^ a b c "About the White Lion Movie". Archived from the original on 27 April 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  9. ^ flashnews. "The Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson". Zimbio. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  10. ^ "Can we see Kevin interacting with the animals?". FAQ. Archived from the original on 16 January 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  11. ^ a b "The Wildlife Sanctuary". The Lion Whisperer. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  12. ^ "The Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson". Archived from the original on 14 October 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  13. ^ Crerar, Simon (12 April 2013). "Kev takes pride being mane man - Amazing photos give you paws for thought". The Courier Mail (Australia). p. 23.
  14. ^ Crerar, Simon (13 April 2013). "Meet The Lion Whisperer, the animal behaviourist reinventing zoology". Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  15. ^ a b "Lion Park's canned hunting 'exposé'". The Lion Park expose. Johannesburg: IOL. 19 August 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  16. ^ "Lion Park reintroduces controversial cub petting". The Lion Park. Johannesburg: enca. 16 August 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  17. ^ a b "Fatal Lion Mauling Highlights Controversy of Private Reserves". National Geographic. 2 March 2018. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  18. ^ "Walking with lions: why there is no role for captive-origin lions Panthera leo in species restoration". 1 January 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  19. ^ Torchia, C. (28 February 2018). "Lion kills woman at refuge of South African 'lion whisperer'". The Washington Times. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  20. ^ Feingold, S. (2 March 2018). "Lion mauls woman to death at popular South African wildlife sanctuary". CNN. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  21. ^ "Animal Planet - Growing up Hyena". Animal Planet. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  22. ^ "White Lion (2010) - Full Cast & Crew". IMDb. Retrieved 2 August 2020.

External linksEdit