As pack animals, lions are some of the most territorial creatures found in the animal kingdom. This need to protect what’s theirs extends not only to the land on which they live, but to the members of their family, too. Suffice it to say, you’d be best advised to steer clear of a protective lioness and her cubs.
Apparently, South African zookeeper Kevin Richardson never got that memo! When he recently saw a small lion cub, his adoration kicked in, and he attempted to pick it up. That’s when its mother set her sights on him…
As a zookeeper in South Africa, Kevin Richardson is no stranger to interacting with some of the most dangerous animals on the planet. A self-taught expert, he’s done everything in his power to educate himself on the proper way to handle big cats and wild animals.
Yet, everyone makes mistakes at their job now and again, and sometimes those mistakes can lead to dire consequences. Such was certainly the case for Kevin when he recently came upon a lioness and her cubs and decided to stick around to try and play.
After setting up his camera to capture the moment, Kevin quietly walked over in an attempt to pick up one of the adorable lion cubs. Just as he sat down to play with the baby, the lioness picked up on what he was doing…
Just then, the mother instinctively jumped up once she saw that Kevin was holding her cub. While the unassuming zookeeper held the baby animal, the lioness made her move—and jumped on top of him!
Kevin wrapped his arms around her in an attempt to protect his face. The lioness was incredibly heavy, and she could slash him into bits with just one swift strike with her paw…
Luckily, she didn’t want to harm Kevin at all! See, Kevin had visited her all throughout her pregnancy, and the two were well-acquainted. She simply wanted to play! Still, Kevin was well-aware of the risks he took every time he came face to face with the big cats.
“Usually when I come in here, I first greet mom to see how she is,” Kevin said while the lioness sat at his feet. “She talks back, and I have a little bit of fun with her.” This certainly explained why they were so close!
Kevin was also sure to mention how important it was for the lioness to feel comfortable with him before he was able to play with her cubs. “After I’ve made an introduction with her on a daily basis, I get a bit closer to the cubs,” he said.
As the self-proclaimed “Lion Whisperer,” this was all in a day’s work for Kevin. In one video, he could be seen gently stroking one of the cub’s faces. He explained that it was unusual for humans to be allowed to interact with baby lions like this.
Even with all his experience, Kevin had to be careful; there was simply no way to predict how the lioness would react to his presence. “Not many people get to see cubs this size, never mind, interact with them,” he said.
During sessions like these, Kevin and the other zookeepers managed to learn a lot about the cubs. From the way they interacted with him to the way they played with each other, all of this information would help people learn more about these animals.
Kevin and other researchers also learned how best to approach other lions at facilities around the world. In a field that can be extremely dangerous, they knew it was imperative to have as much experience and wisdom as they could.
For instance, when it was feeding time, Kevin knew not to overstay his welcome. He would help gather the cubs and bring them to the lioness to let her know that he was not going to hurt them.
Whenever the cubs were feeding, Kevin and the other zookeepers made sure to separate the lioness from the rest of the pride. This allowed her to feel safe and have her own space with her cubs, just like in the wild.
If they weren’t separated, Kevin said the rest of the pride would think it was okay to rough around and play with each other, instead of allowing the cubs to get their nutrition. That, of course, would all change as the cubs continued to grow.
Once the cubs were eight weeks old, they could be integrated with the rest of the pride. Research suggested that, by that point, they’d be strong enough to handle playing with the larger lions.
This made Kevin’s ability to interact with the cubs all the more special. The pride’s father wasn’t even able to spend time with them—besides through a fence—for another few weeks. It was as if Kevin had a VIP backstage pass to the rest of the family!
Of course, with all the time Kevin spent with the family, he was sure to form a tight bond with the lioness. In fact, if he became tuckered out after playing for a few hours, he’d even lie down to nap under her watchful eye!
Being a mother was difficult and tiring, so every once in a while, the lioness would even lie down for a nap with her cubs and Kevin, too! It just proved that the man and the animals had a special bond like no other.
Of course, it was all in a day’s work for the self-proclaimed Lion Whisperer. Despite the risks, playing with the lions and cubs was, quite simply, just another day at the office for Kevin!
It’s incredible how friendly the lions were to Kevin. Of course, that could change at any moment—but that was a risk he was willing to take. Thankfully, he was an expert on their behavior!