I grew up thinking that lions were ferocious beasts ready to tear my limbs apart if I ever came close enough. Yet lion-cuddling Kevin Richardson makes it his job to study and learn more about wildlife populations in South Africa, to help these endangered species. Richardson and GoPro’s video brings viewers up close and personal with animals that we’re told to avoid, in an effort to better understand them.

The excitement expressed by these giant cats, which Richardson raised after a lioness abandoned her cubs (11:30), is evident as they race to leap onto him and embrace him like an old pal – it’s amazing to see such vibrant personalities presented from an animal that many people fear (10:45). However, while Richardson’s relationship with the animals is akin to owner-and-pet, they are still dangerous to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened (check out the caged film crew at 9:13).

Lion and hyena poaching is on the rise; Richardson’s conservation efforts are important reminders that these animals aren’t merciless meat eaters, or cuddly play things – they are living organisms that contribute to the environment around them in significant ways. For more information about what Kevin “Lion Whisperer” Richardson does, check out points 6:00, 9:25, 9:50, and his conservation work here.