Friday, March 13, 2009

He who dares swims: The man who cools off with lions

When Kevin Richardson decided to cool off in the sweltering South African heat he was joined by an unlikely swimming partner - a giant lioness.

But before you fear a massacre, don't because these two are friends.

Zoologist and animal behaviourist Kevin, 34, raises and interacts some of the most dangerous animals known to man.

With his unusual methods, Kevin has developed some exceptionally personal bonds with his students, playing, sleeping and even swimming with animals.

Taking a well deserved swim in the Crocodile River, just south of the Magaliesburg mountains, Kevin was joined by Meg the lioness.

Weighing a staggering 185 kg this boisterous tawny lioness playfully splashed around with the experienced behaviourist.

'We went swimming purely for Meg's enrichment,' Kevin said.

'That's one of the reasons I believe my animals are so relaxed. They live very enriched lives.

'Those who like it go for swims, others go for walks in the greater area and others just prefer to go and chill under a tree in the middle of the park.'

Meg, seven, and her sister Amy, live in The Kingdom of the White Lion, near Johannesburg, South Africa.

Lions, hyenas and leopards reside in the 650 hectare area not too far from the banks of the river.

The Kingdom of the White Lion help to fund predator research in Botswana and are actively involved in creating awareness around the globe.

Kevin, who has been involved in countless documentaries and has just finished working on a new film about white lions, works to create awareness and being active in lion conservation.

With lion numbers in the wild dropping from around 350,000 animals to 25-30,000 animals over a period of 15 years, the statistics paint a grim picture.

However Kevin"s unusual work with these magnificent animals has captured the imagination.

'People are always amazed that she doesn't rip me to pieces with her claws,' Kevin said.

'I assure you every now and again I get a claw going into me. It's unintentional and just reconfirms to me how gentle and in control she tries to be.

'She gets like an excited dog going for a ride in a car. She takes no coaxing to get her to swim.

'You get in and start swimming and the next thing you know there's a full grown lioness beside you doing doggy....umm I mean.... lion paddle towards you.'

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