Kevin Richardson was interviewed by Australian author Veronica Farmer prior to coming out to Australia for his recent 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.’
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 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.
You can connect with Kevin on Facebook and Instagram.
This article originally appeared on Made Beautiful By Scars and has been reupublished with permission. Image credits: Jeroen Hofman.