Kevin: Hello, boy. Come! Come!
Reporter: If you’re on safari, definitely don’t try this.
Kevin: I love my boy. I love my boy. I love my boy.
Reporter: It’s taken years for Kevin Richardson to build up this relationship of trust and affection.
Kevin: Stop fighting. Just stop fighting.
Reporter: And don’t be fooled. These big cats are not tame. This is how the pride greeted us. A family of 38 who still have plenty of their wild instincts at this private reserve near Johannesburg, which is why we were watching from behind the fence.
Kevin: Hello, my boy.
Reporter: Kevin is an animal behaviourist who doesn’t believe in observing his subjects from a safe distance.
Kevin: That’s what you call a lion sandwich. Hello my boys. I love my little cubbies.
Reporter: What would you say to people, Kevin, who, who would say that you’re interfering with nature?
Kevin: Well, you know, I think we interfered with nature the day we put these animals in enclosures. And uh, these lions, none of these lions come from the wild. So, you know, interfering in nature, no, not really. Trying to promote the better life for animals in captivity, yes.
Reporter: In the wild, lions don’t like water. But look at this: A young lioness playing with him in the river. This footage has amazed wildlife experts around the world. Kevin’s work here has divided conservationists. There are plenty who say that any human interaction with a wild animal is just wrong, but others say that this actually promotes the species in a way which should guarantee its long-term survival. Kevin’s survival though, is more in doubt.
Kevin: Down, down, down, down.
Reporter: Are you all right in there?
Kevin : Eh?
Reporter: Are you okay?
Kevin: Yeah. This is normal.
Reporter: But then an orphaned hyena decided to join in.
Kevin: Stop it.
Reporter: He escaped with just a few scratches, this time around.
Kevin: Stop it. I often say, you know, if, if they did kill me, I mean, because something like it did happen, you know, God forbid, um, yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s just one of those things. It’s not something I think about or worry about, and uh, if I had the opportunity to come back after dying, I would do it all the same.
Reporter: There is a remarkable bond here. Over time and without any kind of coercion, these lions have accepted a man as part of the pride.
Kevin: Don’t bite, you come and sit with me.
Reporter: Emma Hurd, Sky News, Mohalesberg, South Africa.