Image credit to Jeroen Hofman
Kevin Richardson was interviewed by Australian author Veronica Farmer before coming out to Australia for his next Speaker Tour...
I was born on the 8th October 1974 in Johannesburg, South Africa. I spent my childhood in the suburb of Orange Grove, far from the African bushveld that I now call home. At around the age of 4, this calling to work with animals began with the rescue of a baby bird I helped raise with my father. The neighbors started calling me 'The Bird Man of Orange Grove' as I began to take in and care for many more waifs and strays.
I planned to follow a career with animals and set my sights on veterinary science. However during my teens, the usual teenage drive for exploration of life and a natural rebelliousness, took my focus away from studies and I was not accepted onto the course.
This led me to shift my focus to zoology, before finally completing a BSc majoring in anatomy and physiology.
In 1998, I visited a lion park and immediately bonded with two lion cubs there. The people working at the park could see that connection and when the words “Come back whenever you like” were offered to me, I don’t think they realized what that offer meant to my determined nature. For eight months, everyday after finishing work, I would go and be with those cubs. After many months, I was pulled aside and told “We aren’t comfortable with you being here all the time.”
I thought “Here, we go. I’ve pushed it too far and I won’t be able to come back.” I felt sick. What they said though after that changed the landscape of my life. They weren’t comfortable with me being there unpaid any longer, and I was offered the chance to work with the two lion cubs, who later became known as Tau and Napoleon.
At the park, I honed my abilities and unique skills to work with lions in a hands-on, interactive manner challenging many misconceptions. Conventional wisdom said that you shouldn’t get down to the lions level and interact that way, really be with them, but I saw that once you had done the relationship work, built that trusted connection over time and genuine care was there, why wouldn’t you do that! My rebellious nature struck again and I trusted this personal connection model of interacting with lions. Soon, I was being called 'The Lion Whisperer.'
Image credit to Jeroen Hofman
These days, I still feel honoured and grateful for the numbers of fans around the world who follow what I do, and all the people who watch my documentaries. In places like America you are competing against a range of celebrities that people follow and idolize, it’s great to know that the work I’m doing is making an impact, when there is so much to keep people distracted.
I know people care about lions, but I think many are not sure about what to do about the issues facing them. Like many of the challenges to our natural world, people can feel helpless in doing anything about it from their apartment in Sydney, London or Tokyo. They feel concerned that there is a possibility of a world without these great carnivores, but have no idea how to act. Many just hope that someone out there will do something, somehow…
I have given my life to this work and can see a fairly simple solution that would have an impact here and I’m ready to action it. I will be sharing my idea soon so that people can support and help us and feel good about that. The focus for 2018, is to get people to work together as a human species, of beings on this planet who care about supporting protective conservation of lions and other carnivores. The solution is not very complicated. If you give large tracts of land back to animals and you protect it from poaching, animals can do what animals naturally do – Thrive. You don’t have to do much else.
The bigger the tracts of land, the less you have to do, the smaller the tracts of land, the more you have to manage. If you want to put animals in 20,000 hectare reserves you need to manage intensively the predators and the herbivores, the grass, the trees and so much more. You have to work hard to keep it all in balance. Half the issue on smaller tracts of conservation land is when Man starts to manage, interfere and make decisions that nature would not make. Humans are often not able to understand the macro integration of the natural environment; instead they focus on the micro, the details – not the whole picture. If you take Man out of the managing equation, nature knows how to survive and thrive.
I have been very worried about lions. The populations are becoming smaller and more isolated. It’s bizarre in a world where more people seem to care more about animals, that an industry like lion hunting has sky-rocketed. What many don’t understand is that as lion parks have increased in number offering lion cubs to pet for visitors, once those cubs grow and are no longer cute enough to cuddle, most of those cubs end up being farmed off to the canned hunting industry. You pet a cub, you ultimately support hunting so that’s why I have a no breeding policy of lion cubs on the reserve. These great carnivores need space away from Man to breed and nurture their families.
What has been challenging is finding others with the stamina and sheer gutsy devotion to support this work, to find those who will serve nature above their own needs for comfort. I have to believe that there is another KR out there somewhere, someone who will come up through the ranks to support this important work of protecting the natural world’s heritage. I don’t need a Me clone necessarily, they don’t have to roll around with lions like I do, but they do need perseverance and determination. To do this important work requires less interest in a selfie with a lion, and more willingness to get hands on in the dirt. I am calling for those kinds of volunteers.
I’ve been doing this work and building lasting relationships with lions and other carnivores for 20 years now. Creating a bond of trust with these animals takes time and commitment like any important relationship. We are unique in the way we interact with animals individually, but a fearless forward momentum and staying power is at the heart of those who are here to serve and leave a legacy of hope for our important animal species.
In my talks I ask the hard question, a question that I think many of us are being forced to look at in our troubled world. We have to know if we are a Giver or a Parasite in the way we are choosing to live. I know that parasite is not a comfortable word to use, but as a species it’s time to look at how we can impact our local and larger environments and make choices that leave our planet in a place where it can survive. We can be wiser Guardians by making simple decisions to live more simply as natural humans rather than exploit nature for instant gratification.
I often use the hashtag #reconnectwithnature in my social media feeds. To me these words are meaningful. Nature is our home and to bring yourself into presence and respectful awe of the natural world can take you to the heart of what it offers and what it is all about. A consciousness shift is required, working together is required and I am sure we can do it.
I am heading over to Australia soon to support the Non Profit Organization Painted Dog Conservation Inc. (PDC Inc) a small organization with a big heart to protect an endangered species in a speaking tour and charity auctions. I have run speaking engagements for them in 2013, 2015 and will be there again in October 2017. I am always keen to connect with more people with a warm regard for conservation and hope my Australian readers out there can join me! For the rest of you, I’d love you to connect with me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LionWhispererSA?fref=ts and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lionwhisperersa/?hl=en
And watch this space… There is something we all can do to keep the hope alive for our Lions!
An interview with Kevin Richardson by author of Made Beautiful by Scars, Author and therapist Veronica Farmer from Brisbane, Australia,
ABOUT KEVIN RICHARDSON
Kevin Richardson is a world-renowned wildlife conservationist and filmmaker, recognized by his persona as the ‘Lion Whisperer’. His mission is to highlight the status of the Africa’s most iconic predator, the lion, through his work in the media and alongside fellow campaigners, researchers and scientists.
Although he started his career at a lion park that allowed cub petting for tourists, he began to understand the pitfalls of this industry, and never felt comfortable with the answers been given as to what ultimately happened to the lion cubs once they grew up. Like many of these parks in South Africa, once cubs grow too big to pet most potentially end up supplying the controversial 'canned lion hunting' industry.
Towards the end of 2011 Kevin made the decision to break ties with the park and moved all of the animals in his care to a new facility on the South East boundary of the newly formed Dinokeng Big 5 Game Reserve in Pretoria, South Africa. Here he implements a no breeding policy of lion cubs and has aligned his fight against 'canned lion hunting' with the Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH) and various other organizations such as Lionaid. His work contributes directly to Protecting African Wildlife Conservation Trust (PAWCT) which actively funds leopard and lion conservation.
His television work has been screened across multiple platforms worldwide, more recent examples include ‘The Lion Whisperer’ (France 2 – highest rated show in the strand), ‘The Lion Ranger’ series for Nat Geo Wild, ‘Lions on The Move’ multiple channels, ‘Lions, The New Endangered Species’ (GoPro - over 37 million views), ‘Lion Whisperer’ (60 minutes USA – CBS - highest rating in 2 years with over 18.5 million Americans watching) highlighting the plight of dwindling wild lion populations and the horrors associated with cub petting and the 'canned lion hunting' industry.
I‘Killer IQ: Lion v Hyenas’ featuring Kevin and his animals premiered on the Smithsonian Channel and featured in their respected magazine plus other channels globally. Working with the world’s leading experts this ground breaking two-part series explored the cognitive behavior of lions and hyenas. Kevin also provided unlimited access to the sanctuary for Natalia Borrego (one of the experts in the series), to complete her PHD in lion cognition.
He also has his own YouTube channel Lion Whisperer TV introducing the world to his lions and work on a daily basis together with a web site and Facebook page
Kevin has has taken part in many speaking events on lions and lion conservation and was a guest speaker at Google Zeitgeist, amongst influential speakers like former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and esteemed scientists like Dr Craig Venter (Responsible for DNA sequencing the human genome).
Collaborations with world recognized artists and photographers help to raise awareness and funds for conservation. Fine art photographer David Yarrow is donating a percentage of his print sales of Kevin’s animals to TUSK, Britain's leading African Wildlife Charity which features Prince William as its patron. New York artist Suzanne Unrein’s stunning impressionistic paintings featuring Kevin and his lions raised further funds for lion conservation.
Currently he's working on setting up The Kevin Richardson Foundation. The Foundation's aims are to maintain and develop the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary, to acquire and secure land with safe borders to protect and expand natural lion habitats, to create community support and education programmes and finally to support causes that share the same passion for lions and long term goals.
MADE BEAUTIFUL BY SCARS Transformation Stories
Collection by Veronica Farmer
ORDER YOURS NOW for 15th October delivery!
In this book read 38 stories from Eco Warriors, Athletes, Leaders in Business, Artists, Musicians and more, along with everyday heroes who have not only overcome a life scar but have been driven towards powerful purpose!
AU$2 of every book sold will go to Kevin Richardson's important land acquisition project to protect wilderness areas.
Veronica Farmer, Author and Therapist, Brisbane, Australia. Passionate about sharing raw human stories that matter!