Part of the Pride: My Life Living Amongst Africa's Big Cats
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In "Part of the Pride", Kevin Richardson, recently dubbed "The Lion Man" on 60 Minutes, tells the story of how he grew from a young boy who loved animals to become a man able to cross the divide between humans and predators, looking some of the world's most dangerous animals directly in the eye, playing with them and even kissing them on the nose-all without ever being attacked or injured. As a self-taught animal behaviorist, Richardson has broken every safety rule known to humans when working with these wild animals. Flouting common misconceptions that breaking an animal's spirit with sticks and chains is the best way to subdue them, he uses love, understanding and trust to develop personal bonds with them. His unique method of getting to know their individual personalities, what makes each of them angry, happy, upset, or irritated has caused them to accept him like one of their own into their fold. Richardson allows the animals' own stories to share center stage as he tells readers about Napoleon and Tau, the two he calls his "brothers"; the amazing Meg, a lioness Richardson taught to swim; the fierce Tsavo who savagely attacked him; and the heartbreaking little hyena called Homer who didn't live to see his first birthday. In "Part of the Pride", Richardson, with novelist Tony Park, delves into the mind of the big cats and their world to show readers a different way of understanding the dangerous big cats of Africa.
They wanted to make a Growing Up Hyena documentary and had found out about the Lion Park and the work we were doing raising hyena cubs and forming our hyena clans. I was excited about getting involved, as I’ve always felt that hyenas have never received the recognition they deserve as fascinating, intelligent animals. Hollywood, documentary-makers, and even Disney have tended to portray hyenas as sinister scavengers, feeding off the efforts of other animals and stealing from them. In reality, hyenas are efficient hunters who live in highly organized and structured clans, as I’d learned firsthand.
I worked hard and finally saved enough money for a remote-control car—one of those where the car is attached to the control via a cable. I was so disappointed. I saw myself watching the car zoom around the room while I stood still and watched. Not so with this one. The wire from the remote to the car kept on getting tangled on things and I had to follow the car everywhere like a dog on a lead. It was the poor man’s version of a true radio-controlled car and not much fun. Perhaps because of disappointments like the one with the car or the fact that I didn’t have every toy or bike I wanted, I developed a love of animals, reptiles, and insects early on in life.
I asked Mandy. “No, thanks. I’m going to put dinner on,” she said. It’s hard to explain, but the feeling that I needed to spend some time with the lions had been nagging away at me. I got into my Land Cruiser Prado, and on the short but winding and scenic drive through the Kingdom I was still feeling uncomfortable, even though I was on my way to see the pride. I went straight to Tau and Napoleon’s enclosure because I wanted to see Tabby’s cubs, but when I got out of the vehicle I saw the big males were in the far corner and Tabby was obviously distressed.
That is, they walked around going “wa-OWWW” and searching for the milk bottle. We would give one a drink and then start filming, only to have to stop again to wipe the milk off its mouth. They would then want to roll around and play, or fall asleep instead of dying dramatically. Now, I love cubs as much as anyone and it was all very cute, but we were getting nowhere. In the final film, thanks to hours of effort over an entire night’s filming and lots of trickery, we ended up with a dramatic, realistic scene in which Letsatsi’s brown brother dies a heartwrenching death.
These were the regulations in force at the time. While this sounds like the lion might have a sporting chance, it doesn’t work that way. If you release a lion that has lived in a small cage all its life into what is in effect just a larger enclosure, it is going to panic. He will run to the fence, and once he reaches it he will keep running along the fence line. I suspect this is the reason why the media has been able to get film of lions being shot through fences. Whether the cage is four meters by four, or a thousand hectares, the lion will probably still be on the fence when it gets shot.