Kevin Richardson (zookeeper)

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Kevin Richardson next to a jaguar

Kevin Richardson (born 8 October 1974) is a South African animal behaviorist who has worked extensively with native animals of Africa. He has been accepted into several clans of spotted hyenas and prides of lions. [1]

Early life[edit]

Kevin Richardson was born in the Nightingale Clinic on 8 October 1974 in Johannesburg, South Africa. 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 zoologist."[2]

Career[edit]

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 physiotherapy.[5] and became an exercise physiologist. When he was twenty-three, he had the opportunity to work with two six-month-old lion cubs, Tau and Napoleon, at the Lion Park near the outskirts of his home in Johannesburg.[6] He still works with the grown cubs.[4] The facility owner, Rodney Fuhr, started him off with a part-time job at the Lion Park.[6]

Kevin Richardson with hyena

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]

He develops a bond with the lions and gets to know them, and has gained recognition by living with lions. Richardson has disregarded many safety rules concerning lions, and has dispelled many myths about their training.[3]

Facilities[edit]

Richardson worked in a 1600-acre Lion Park in Broederstroom, a town 35 miles north of his hometown, Johannesburg, in South Africa. While specializing in lions, he also interacted with hyenas and leopards.[5] He spent the majority of his lion career at the Lion Park before moving to the Kingdom of the White Lion. The Lion Park was founded by the Chipperfields Circus in November 1966. Located in the Gauteng-Tshwane complex, the climate is perfect for Highveld fauna and the native animals found in this park. The Park is divided into two areas. Herbivores and carnivores are separated and the herbivores such as zebras, giraffes, and antelope are available for viewing up close. The carnivores include three prides of lions and one clan of hyenas. They are surrounded by barriers and fences to protect each pride from the other. Lions can be extremely territorial if intruders enter their domain. The lions housed there are indigenous to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Northern Gauteng, and Botswana.[7] The Lion park is open all year from 08:30 - 17:00.[8]

Currently, Richardson has a special facility called the Kingdom of the White Lion in Broederstroom.[9][10] 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.[10] Richardson cares for thirty-nine lions at this facility.[9] Currently, the facility is private, but there are plans to open it to the public.[11]

Lion care[edit]

Kevin Richardson with lions

Richardson has worked with big cats and relies on intuition rather than static rules. He has slept next to, fed, and lived with lions. Along with lions, he has 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 most 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]

His unique relationship with the genus Panthera has dispelled many myths concerning the care of lions. Richardson demonstrates that lions and animals in general, have personalities, feelings, and are social creatures. His interaction with them shows that, with mutual respect, many species can coexist. That does not mean there are no dangers; Richardson, throughout his career, has had many close encounters.[13]

Richardson rejects the traditional notion that lions should be mastered and dominated, preferring to develop a relationship over time, based on love and respect.[14] "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]

Dangers[edit]

Richardson learned about the dangers of lion keeping when a four-year-old male held him down and bit him; the lion held on at first, before letting go and walking away. From then on, Richardson has used his intuition and stays away if something feels wrong.[13] In another incident, the lions were in a good mood. Two 400-pound (180 kilogram) lions threw Richardson to the ground and another female jumped on him. He emerged with his face red. As he left, one lion smacked his shoulder with a paw.[9] Richardson has been clawed and bitten often. It is the nature of lions to scratch each other and they regard Richardson no differently.[5] Richardson 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.[5] Richardson also differentiates his work from that of professional 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]

Mission[edit]

The population of lions has dropped from about 350,000 to an estimated 25,000 during a fifteen-year-span. Richardson hopes the media attention of his movies will raise public awareness and educate them on the need to protect and conserve Africa's animals.[5] Lion hunts in South Africa garner more than 90 million dollars (£60 million) a year according to the Professional Hunters Association. Between September 2006-September 2007, 16,394 foreign hunters (more than half of whom fly from the U.S.) killed 46,000+ animals. Trophy hunting is worth $91.2 million a year and foreign tourists sometimes pay up to $40,000 to shoot a lion. The government supports hunting because of this revenue and the provincial governments sell permits to kill rhinoceroses, lions, elephants, and giraffes. 1,050 lions were killed in 2008.[16] White Lion hopes to give people second thoughts about participating in these events.[9]

Works/publications[edit]

TitleMinutes/PagesFeaturesProduced/PublishedRelease Date
Dangerous Companions52 MinutesLionsUnknown2005
Growing Up HyenaPart of Growing Up SeriesHyenasAnimal Planet5 August 2008 (DVD)
In Search of a Legend52 MinutesBlack LeopardGraham WallingtonUnknown
White Lion: Home is a Journey88 MinutesWhite LionPeru Productions19 February 2010
Part of the Pride: My Life Among the Big Cats of Africa256 PagesKevin RichardsonSt. Martin's Press1 September 2009
The Lion Ranger Series3 x 60 MinutesVariousRenegade ProductionsMarch 2010
GoPro: Lions - The New Endangered Species?14 MinutesLionsGoProNovember 2013
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's talents 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.[17] 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 latest film is entitled, White Lion: Home is a Journey, 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 producer. 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.[10]

"Go Pro: Lions - The New Endangered Species?"[edit]

"GoPro: Lions - The New Endangered Species?"[18] is a short documentary, that was released 20 November 2013 in conjunction with Kevin Richardson and the high definition digital camera manufacturer. The film was created exclusively as a part of GoPro’s nine-part adventure series promoting the HERO 3+ camera. A team of videographers documented Richardson’s interactions with wild lions and spotted hyenas near Pretoria, South Africa[18] The film exemplifies Richardson’s unique relationship with the animals and attempts to create a platform of understanding their distinct personalities.[19]

The video primarily depicts Richardson’s unorthodox relationship with a pride of lions where he is ‘intensively’ familiar [18] with each member and claims to connect with them individually as he would with a human. The video shows several shots of Richardson hugging, kissing, and petting the lions[18] While the lions affectionately play with Richardson, they still respond aggressively to the videographers. Richardson has more intimate relationships with two lions, which he named Meg and Amy[18] The documentary explains his relationship with the two lions since their birth and how he saved them from drowning after their mother abandoned them in a nearby river[18] Richardson discussed this incident with the videographers,

The film also describes Richardson’s relationship with spotted hyenas native to South Africa. Richardson communicates affectionately the logistics and differences between lions and spotted hyenas. He comments on the strict hierarchy in a clan of hyenas[18] as well as his own standing within specific clans. He goes on to defend hyenas when he rejects the prejudice that they are aggressive scavengers when he describes the mammal as misunderstood and calls out individual hyenas as “loving”, “friendly”, “gorgeous”, and with having a “lovely personality.”[18] Richardson admits that when he first came in contact with hyenas he did not know what he was getting into however goes on to explain the joy they have contributed to his life. Throughout the short film Richardson brings attention to the contemporary issues and consequences surrounding the loss of wildlife habitats in South Africa.

Personal life[edit]

Richardson is married and has two children. His wife Mandy does marketing for him and the lion park. They have a son, Tyler, born in 2009, and a daughter, Jessica, born in July 2013.[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ochman, BL. "Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson at Lion Park. Don’t Try This at Home, Boys & Girls!". 
  2. ^ a b "Reach for a Star: Kevin Richardson". Reach for a Star. SA Career Focus Magazine. February 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Caskie, Rob. "Kevin's Youth". Speaker: Kevin Richardson. Motivators International. Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Kevin Richardson (2009). "Reach for a Sthe Pride: My Life Among the Big Cats of Africa". St. Martin's Press. p. 256. ISBN 0-312-55674-8. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Celizic, Mike. "Big cats purr like kittens for ‘Lion Whisperer’". Today: Pets and Animals. MSNBC. 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. Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  7. ^ "About the Lion Park". Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  8. ^ "The Lion Park". Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c d flashnews. "The Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson". Zimbio. Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c "About the White Lion Movie". Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  11. ^ "Can we see Kevin interacting with the animals?". FAQ. Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  12. ^ "The Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson". Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  13. ^ a b Admin. "Kevin Richardson The Lion Whisperer". Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  14. ^ a b 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". News.com.au. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  16. ^ Faul, Michelle. "Movie highlights trophy shooting in South Africa". Daily Journal. Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  17. ^ "Animal Planet - Growing up Hyena". Animal Planet. Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h "GoPro: Lions – The New Endangered Species?". Go Pro. YouTube. 20 November 2014. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  19. ^ Spector, Dina (13 January 2014). "Video Of A Man Hugging A Wild Lion Will Bring You To Tears". Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc. Retrieved March 2014. 
  20. ^ http://showme.co.za/lifestyle/a-cub-of-his-own/

External links[edit]