South Africa’s Wildlife Whisperers: Kevin Richardson, Lawrence Anthony & Mike Rutzen

There is something about the word ‘Africa’ that conjures up images of expansive savannahs, flaming red sunsets and scores of animals roaming free. When imagining Africa, and suspending the realities of its predominantly third-world and semi-industrialised state, one word has remained persistently synonymous with the continent:wild.

A walk through the bustling city-bowl of Cape Town would certainly contradict this statement, but a short drive outside of any city centre, and deep into the space of the nature reserve will reveal an altogether different story. Find yourself off the grid and away from the tall office-block buildings, the smells of freshly tarred roads and the collective city sounds of revving cars, loud music spilling out of apartment windows and everything else that is decidedly urban – and the wildness of Africa could feel just a little too close for comfort.

But when it comes to the wild, it attracts more than tourists and holidaymakers or hunters and poachers, as a curious and captivating figure seems to have emerged: the wildlife whisperer. Kevin Richardson ‘The Lion Whisperer’, Lawrence Anthony ‘The Elephant Whisperer and Mike ‘Sharkman’ Rutzen have become global names for their phenomenal and seemingly crazy efforts with wildlife – all of whom were born and bred on the colourful shores of South Africa!

Each of these men have captivated the world in one way or another, and for animal lovers and haters alike, their plights with wildlife creatures have been inspiring; have a look:

The Lion Whisperer

Who said cats hate water, anyway

Who said cats hate water, anyway?

Lions, as the apex predator of the savannah, are typically looked at as rather dangerous – understandably so, considering that their jaws can crush bones and an adult’s paw is almost the size of a human head. But imagining Africa without Lions seems almost impossible, since the two are so mutually exclusive.

apex predator of the savannah
“Lion’s live on less than 20% of their former habitat due to destruction, human-predator conflict, poaching, hunting, and illegal trade” – Kevin Richardson.

Richardson has developed unique and awe-inspiring relationships with Africa’s big cats – bonds which are over 16 years in the making. He’s appeared on several local and international news networks, and his philosophy of building loving and caring ties of trust between himself and these predatory cats is beautifully endearing.

lion cuddle
Looking content & comfortable.

His efforts to shine a spotlight on the plight of Lions in both the wild and in captivity has captured plenty of attention around the world. The way he interacts with these animals is astounding; they look like nothing more than oversized kitty-cats when Richardson is around them. This video will have you gasping and gawking in delight:


The Elephant Whisperer

Anthony interacting with the elephants he loved.

Lawrence Anthony’s remarkable story and his work with African elephants is widely-known across the world. The relationships he developed with Africa’s largest land animal, his legendary conservation efforts that included establishing conservation groups and nature reserves, as well as his intimate approach to rehabilitating traumatized elephants is well-documented in his co-written book, The Elephant Whisperer.

the elephant whisperer
A heart-warming, tear-jerking, all round inspiring novel.

This man was remarkable; after being called upon by a conservation group to rescue a group of nine, destructive elephants in KwaZulu-Natal, Anthony successfully managed to rescue the herd and save them from being shot. He provided them with a home at Thula-Thula nature reserve, where he eventually earned their trust and became a part of the family.

What’s more – after Anthony’s passing in March 2012, two herds laboriously trudged across acres of the Thula-Thula Reserve and loitered on their friend’s compound for two days before retreating back into the wilderness. It’s remarkable, because these gentle giants are well-known for mourning their dead and the herds had, presumably, gone to the Anthony compound to pay their respects.

The Sharkman

The Sharkman
He’s tallied over 800 hours of free-diving with sharks, and discovered that massaging a white shark’s nose causes tonic mobility.

Another local wildlife whisperer, Mike Rutzen, is fast approaching legendary status for his interaction with Great White sharks. Footage of his nail-biting free dives have folks labelling him as crazy, while at the same time, alerting us all to the gross misconceptions that have shrouded these apex predators since the pilot screening ofJaws.

Rutzen started out as a fisherman catching yellowtail, and recalls white sharks launching themselves on the deck of their fishing boat to get at the freshly caught fish. Close to 20 years later, and Rutzen’s come a long way; his shark cage diving business, White Shark Diving Unlimited, is one of the popular diving operators in Gansbaai and his business has hosted many, many celebrities over the years.

“My business gives the great whites a value alive, whereas previously their only value was their fins and jaws.” – Mike Rutzen

Rutzen pictured here with actor Brad Pitt
Rutzen pictured here with actor Brad Pitt.

Apart from managing his company and occasionally accompanying divers to Shark Alley, his conservation efforts include participating in several national and international documentaries and films. After watching this awe-inspiring video of Rutzen ‘catching a ride’ from a Great White, it’s easy to see how he’s earned the title of ‘Sharkman’.


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