Looking to get up close and personal with a lion? Look no further than this remarkable viral video of "lion whisperer" Kevin Richardson getting cuddly with the big cats.
The video, made by camera company GoPro, features zoologist Richardson hugging, rolling and cuddling with lions and hyenas in his home country of South Africa. The footage was uploaded to YouTube in November, but has picked up steam online in the past few days thanks to Reddit users who have helped surface the video.
“If you give them a good chin scratch, they’re very happy, content cats,” Richardson says in the video. We'll go ahead and take his word on that.
To produce the 14-minute clip, GoPro says HERO3+ cameras were strapped to Richardson and onto the backs of lions and hyenas, giving viewers a terrifyingly close experience. For additional shots and interview reels, a camera crew was safely guarded inside a nearby SUV or metal cage with their filming equipment.
"I don't know how they see me," Richardson says in the video of the wild animals, "but I definitely fit in as a lion."
Throughout the video, Richardson speaks about the alarmingly quick decline in Africa’s lion population. The Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary estimates Africa’s lion population is less than 20 percent of what it once was, and to Richardson, the answer to the dramatic numbers is restoring the lions’ natural habitat.
“I’m trying my damnedest to create awareness,” he says. “People see me interacting with the lions and I think they start to think ‘Gee, imagine Africa without lions?’”
Dubbed the "lion whisperer," Richardson appeared on TODAY in 2009 to discuss his unusual comfort among the kings of the jungle.
“I get grazed and scratched all the time but that's just everyday life,” he said at the time. “A lot of people freak out if they get scratched by a domestic cat, but over the years working with the lions, it becomes part of the job. They scratch and bite each other; there's no reason they shouldn't do it to you, too.”