Volunteering With Lions At Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary

I love animals. Domestic cats, Big Cats, lions especially. Always have. Always will (should have been a vet, not a doctor – but that’s another story).

With small cats, you can touch, feel, and get up close and personal. This cements a bond with them and vice versa. 

But spending a week as a volunteer at Kevin Richardson’s Lion Sanctuary near Johannesburg working with Big Cats was another kettle of fish. So we were soon to find out!

Kevin Richardson lion - lion in captivity

An old scarred rescued lion

Lions In Captivity

My first exposure to lions was in a lion conservation park in Cape Town a few years earlier. They had many rescued lions, including rare white lions which we had never seen before.

Whilst in the middle of a tour of the park, I tried to take some close up footage of a pair of them standing close to our fence.

As if on cue they began, err, well doing it. What show-offs. And boy, they do it quick too. No messing about, no foreplay. Bonobo monkeys have NOTHING on these lions!

Big Cats Are Big Meat Eaters

But these are BIG cats, with big paws, or rather HUGE paws and claws, and teeth. Did I mention the teeth? Yes they use those to eat meat, serious meat, and kilos of it.

All I can say is thank god I was not a vegan. If you are, then this is not the job for you. Without a doubt, it’s not for you!

Kevin Richardson lions

Meat, meat and more meat, lots of it (and flies…!)

As Kevin explained one day looking after big cats such as lions cheetah, leopard, and hyenas (he had all of them at his sanctuary) get used to handling meat, lots of it.

And Lots Of Meat Means A Big Smell…

Meat means blood, flies, and smell…And when there is lots of it, there is always what comes out the other end.  Poop, big poop, and very smelly poop.

And don’t ever try to pick up fresh poop. Best let it fully cook in the hot African sun until blanched and as ‘sterilized’ as it can be. For a few days or more, I say!

Kevin Richardson’s Lion Sanctuary In South Africa

Kevin, The Lion Pack Leader

Kevin’s lions have a long history of being with him. He brought most of them over from various lion parks were he worked prior to setting up his own sanctuary. His wish was for them to live out their natural life in dignity.

This meant he knew them well. And they were very familiar with him. He was part of their pack.

So his demeanor around them was that of being the one in charge. The pack leader. If not, there would be no respect for him. And that could be very dangerous…

Kevin Richardson lions

And Volunteers Are At The Bottom Of The Pack

Whilst being pack leader meant Kevin could go into their enclosures in ‘total’ safety, that did not mean the same for us volunteers.

We had to learn the ‘safety’ rules. How to methodically access their feeding or night houses and enclosures for cleaning or at feed times.

So there was a very specific routine to go through if no-one was to get hurt. Whenever we had to access either their night house or enclosure, the cats were locked in or out of that space, so we could clean one or put food in the other.

Kevin Richardson lions

Yes, WE are inside their feed house being very closely watched

Feeding Lions

One day, one of the lions in a group needed to be separated from the others. He needed to be fed more food than the others as they would often take his food from him.

So the usual routine of putting great big lumps of meat in a feed house was changed. We had to lock the others of his group in one, whilst he was locked outside in their big enclosure.

Then we dragged a massive joint of horse meat to throw it over the high electric fence. All this whilst standing on the back of a ute or ‘backy’ as it is called in Afrikaans. An interesting and almost back-breaking exercise.

Certainly feeding our little 3kg sphynx cat back home with little sachets of processed cat food is a breeze compared to these big cats!

Kevin Richardson lions

Lions And Their Blood-Curdling Roars


And just in case you think these cats are just big pussycats, think again. When they roar, it sends a blood-curdling feeling up your spine, especially if you are not expecting it.

One day, however, one boy started roaring and set off another in his enclosure, which led to them doing it in unison.

A neat trick I thought until they ran out of steam and one fell over exhausted. Very funny!

[Photos and Videos by Tony and Irene Isaacson]


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