Great book & films from “The Lion Whisperer”

I initially blogged about Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson in March of last year. He is an amazing man who believes predators can be handled without the use of punishing aversives such as chains or sticks. Of course, there is a caveat here, as he has only been able to do this by initially forming a strong human-animal bond with extremely young lions.

Here is Kevin with lioness mom, Ishca, who had recently given birth, showing how her three cubs are released back to the pride.

Kevin is just so busy and doing so many wonderful things. To keep up with it all, just bookmark his fabulous site. I’m very excited about the latest news, his new series for National Geographic, called The Lion Ranger. It is going to be launched in September, three episodes airing on September 6th, 13th and 20th.

Kevin has always shown an interest in all types of creatures large and small and from an early age at just 3, was breeding crickets under his bed and keeping a pet toad called “Paddajie”. He grew from a young boy who cared for so many animals that he was called “The Bird Man of Orange Grove” in his home town to an adolescent who ran wild and, finally, to a man who is able to cross the divide between humans and predators.  As a self-taught animal behaviorist, Richardson has broken every safety rule known to humans when working with these wild animals. Flouting common misconceptions that breaking an animal’s spirit with sticks and chains is the best way to subdue them, he uses love, understanding and trust to develop personal bonds with them. His unique method of getting to know their individual personalities, what makes each of them angry, happy, upset, or irritated-just like a mother understands a child-has caused them to accept him like one of their own into their fold.

Kevin has used his unique relationship with these large predators to make documentaries and commercials while working at the Lion Park in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was there that award winning documentary maker Michael Rosenberg spotted Kevin’s unusual abilities and decided to capture these special relationships on film which kick started off Kevin’s documentary making career with Dangerous Companions, and other shows like Growing up hyena.

I was lucky enough to find the complete 51-minute Dangerous Companions DVD online, and it is a film that you do not want to miss.

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You definitely want to check out Kevin’s fabulous book, Part of the Pride: My Life Among the Big Cats of Africa. He chronicles his life and career while explaining his unique ability to gain the trust of predators like lions and hyenas. Working at the South African Lion Park and the Kingdom of the White Lion sanctuaries, Richardson has been accepted by some of his lions as a brother, “sometimes even a father… a friend to others, and an acquaintance to the rest.”

Although he has been attacked, he credits his “lifelong love-affair with dangerous things” for his ability to keep cool. (Although, on being nearly mauled to death early in his career, he says, “What do you do when a lion is trying to eat you? Anything you can think of.”)

Kevin also recently produced White Lion, a dream that actually became a film.

WHITE LION was shot on location, at The Kingdom of the White Lion, an enterprise 50 miles outside of the city of Johannesburg, along the Crocodile River, established especially for this film. This marks the first production – entirely about lions – starring ‘real’ lions from South Africa. “To date most lion pictures shot in South Africa, have seen the import of trained lions,” says Producer and Lion Wrangler, Kevin Richardson. “Our lions look great… they’re lean, mean and heroic – not spoiled, fat and lazy.”

The picture is the long-time dream of one of the owners of the Johannesburg Lion Park, Rodney Fuhr, who served as Executive Producer alongside his wife Ilana. Fuhr independently funded the movie, and filming was approached in a fairly unconventional manner. Richardson recalled, “WHITE LION has been a long time coming and was Rodney’s vision, dating back to the early eighties. His original idea was to follow a tawny (normal colored) male lion cub from infancy to adulthood. Since then, it has obviously progressed to the stage where we are following a white lion and his journey. We switched from a tawny – probably to make our lives a little bit more difficult and more challenging! But, such an exquisite beast certainly makes for a much more powerful story. For me, the beauty of this film is its reality component and inherent simplicity.


A Taming yet *Tender* Touch

Alex Larenty gives full-grown lion Jamu a foot massage. Jamu is known to roll over and expectantly wave his paws for his keeper. (Barcroft Pacific)

What an amazing story about Alex Larenty, an English animal expert who has found a special way to bond with lions, elephants and grizzly bears. He has raised several lions from birth at the The Lion Park, outside Johannesburg, thus building a level of mutual trust with them.

Alex Larenty, 50, has built a unique bond with nine-year-old Jamu by tickling him on his giant paws at The Lion Park, outside Johannesburg.

“[He likes] being scratched and tickled and now his favourite game is ‘This Little Piggy’,” Larenty told the Daily Mail.

Click here to enjoy some additional cool photos of Alex with Jamu.

Quack Medicine, indeed.

I just love this story. It exemplifies why dogs suffering from cancer or various disabilities (amputee, blind, etc.) who visit medically compromised patients are so successful.

Quack medicine: Disabled boy, 4, learns to walk after copying lame duckling
By Daily Mail Reporter, February 11, 2010

A four-year-old boy who was told he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life has miraculously learned to walk by copying a disabled duckling.

Finlay Lomax suffered a stroke as a baby and developed cerebral palsy which affects the way the brain co-ordinates movement in the body.

The family were told Finlay would never walk because of the condition, but defying the odds he has now learned to stand on his own two feet after he began studying a day-old duckling.

Although Finlay has been provided with physical therapy for years, he has never shown growth until Ming-Ming’s arrival. All it took was for the duck to begin physical therapy and to then walk, for Finlay to finally realize the connection.

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Winter, The Dolphin that Could

Winter, who has inspired people of all ages across the world, has been featured on numerous TV reports and news media. At only three months of age, she found herself wrapped tightly in a crab trap line and was unable to escape. She was rescued and transported to Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium to begin a long rehabilitation. Unfortunately, Winter lost her entire tail as well as two vertebrae a result of the serious injuries that she had sustained. Yet, despite the odds against survival, she has now completely healed, adapted to a new swim pattern, and learned to eat fish on her own.

A film developed by CMA, “Winter, The Dolphin that Could,” captures the magic of the human-animal bond, so detailing Winter’s rescue and rehabilitation, including never before seen footage of her fight to stay alive. The documentary also shows how Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics stepped up to make Winter a one-of-a-kind prosthetic tail. The gel created for the sleeve of her tail is hopefully going to help humans with prosthetics walk more comfortably (though I agree with NSCIA Columnist, Mike Ervin’s take on the inequities here).

Alex & Me: A Human-Animal Bond of true wonder

Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process, written by Irene Pepperberg, is an incredible book.

On September 6, 2007, an African Grey parrot named Alex died prematurely at age thirty-one. His last words to his owner, Irene Pepperberg, were “You be good. I love you.” What would normally be a quiet, very private event was, in Alex’s case, headline news. Over the thirty years they had worked together, Alex and Irene had become famous—two pioneers who opened an unprecedented window into the hidden yet vast world of animal minds. Alex’s brain was the size of a shelled walnut, and when Irene and Alex first met, birds were not believed to possess any potential for language, consciousness, or anything remotely comparable to human intelligence. Yet, over the years, Alex proved many things. He could add. He could sound out words. He understood concepts like bigger, smaller, more, fewer, and none. He was capable of thought and intention. Together, Alex and Irene uncovered a startling reality: We live in a world populated by thinking, conscious creatures.

The fame that resulted was extraordinary. Yet there was a side to their relationship that never made the papers. They were emotionally connected to one another. They shared a deep bond far beyond science. Alex missed Irene when she was away. He was jealous when she paid attention to other parrots, or even people. He liked to show her who was boss. He loved to dance. He sometimes became bored by the repetition of his tests, and played jokes on her. Sometimes they sniped at each other. Yet nearly every day, they each said, “I love you.”

Alex and Irene stayed together through thick and thin—despite sneers from experts, extraordinary financial sacrifices, and a nomadic existence from one univer­sity to another. The story of their thirty-year adventure is equally a landmark of scientific achievement and of an unforgettable human-animal bond.

Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist and Professor of Anthropology at The College of William and Mary. Her writings are amazing and her blogging should not be missed. Here is part of her must-read article: A Tale of Alex, Bird with a Walnut-Sized Brain (And What a Brain it Was)

For 23 years, Alex the African Grey Parrot had been surprising scientist Irene Pepperberg with his skills, skills no birdbrain was supposed to have. One day in 2000, working at MIT’s Media Lab, Pepperberg soared beyond surprise to sky-high astonishment. She was engaging Alex (so named in honor of the “Avian Language Experiment”) in sounding out phonemes, the individual sounds that make up words.

Alex had already made progress on this task. If shown a tray of plastic letters, the kind parents affix to a refrigerator door to stimulate their kids’ alphabet learning, he responded correctly to questions. Shown an array of letters that included, say, a red “Ch,” a green “N” and a blue “S,” and so on, when asked, “What sound is blue?,” Alex answered “Ssss….”

That day, some of MIT’s corporate sponsors had flocked to watch Alex do a demo. Alex answered a phoneme question correctly, but then piped up with “Want a nut.” Like students everywhere, Alex liked a good snack now and again, and to push his luck with his teachers.

Wanting to keep him on task, Irene pressed Alex with another question, and got the correct answer and immediately, another “Want a nut.” A third Q&A round followed, but this time Alex underscored the seriousness of his craving with the avian equivalent of italics: “Want a nut.”

At this point, Pepperberg writes, Alex “became very slitty-eyed, always a sign he was up to something.” He looked at her and slowly said, “Want a nut. Nnn…uh….tuh.” No birdbrain there! Alex had just leaped from sounding out phonemes to spelling out the letters of a whole word.

This vignette is one of my favorites in Alex and Me. It conveys Alex’s smarts but also his sass. Alex was an independent bird with a haughty streak and an entitlement complex. Star of The Alex Project and darling of the media, Alex commanded English to convey one thing most clearly: Boredom was his enemy. Irene and her team of students asked him question after question in a quest to satisfy skeptics with statistically significant results. The whole process just wore on his nerves. And sometimes, as with his pointed n-u-t response, he’d just fly beyond the tests, and leave the testers behind.

Go do yourself a favor and read the rest. It is such a special piece.


Joyce Miller and her new Golden Retriever Joy

Joyce Miller and her new Golden Joy. Photo by Andy Burriss

This news story by Andrew Dys is simply wonderful. I only wish I could see this special pair in person, so lucky to have each other.

Miller immediately fed the limping dog, which Miller described as “looking like a golden retriever but probably has some Irish setter in her.” Miller got some antibiotics for the dog in case the bites were infected. She bathed the dog’s wounds. She put a cover on the couch, and the dog jumped right up there and took a nap.

“This dog just needed a friend,” she said.

Miller is 71. She just had rotator cuff surgery on her shoulder, and the other shoulder needs the same. She can’t lift even a gallon of milk and has to go through physical therapy. She sure can’t lift a big dog. The physical therapist who comes to Miller’s home, Nancy Barbieri, said she was worried the dog was more than Miller could handle. “But I always have trouble getting Joyce to stop helping others and slow down and think of herself,” Barbieri said.

Still, Miller said, “this dog needed me.”

By Wednesday, the dog was following her around the house. The dog hadn’t so much as barked once — let alone gotten into a scrape with man nor beast. By Wednesday night, the dog was sleeping at the foot of Miller’s bed.

By Thursday morning, the dog had moved past following Miller and had taken to sitting in front of her — staring back at Miller. “The dog just looks right at me,” Miller said.

On Thursday afternoon, Barbieri came to give Miller her treatment, and the dog was right there, two feet away, watching the whole thing.

Miller acknowledged that over decades, she has helped almost anything with legs. “Counting a skunk and two rabbits not too long ago, this dog makes 232,” Miller said, referring to the animals she has taken in.

But Miller’s recent health struggles meant no more animals. Until now. “The dog is staying,” said Miller. “I love her. I think she loves me, too.”

Miller petted that dog a lot Thursday. She had no choice. The dog went wherever Miller went. The dog just sat and stared at her. Or stood and stared at her and wagged its red-gold tail.

Miller has already given the dog a name. Because not only is the dog doing better after three days at Miller’s home, but Miller is feeling better. Stronger. More lively.

“I named her Joy.”

Amazing human-animal bond

A Peruvian Rescue and rehabilitation team trains sea lions to reentry into the wild using unique methods. This video shows the astonishing bond that can develop between man and animal. presents amazing video documenting efforts to save dolphins, whales and the oceans from hunting, captivity and contamination and explores interspecies communication with dolphins.The person who featured this video has been working to save dolphins and other marine mammals for nearly thirty years, making many films for PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and other broadcasters. The group’s current focus is on correlations between contamination in the marine food chain and diseases such as cancer in humans.

A very sad day

It is very sad today as two very close friends are dealing with serious illnesses with their Goldens. Our board member, Marti, is hoping to keep her sweet girl Carly from going into renal failure. Carly has had much to deal with as she has had arthritis difficulties and then weight issues on top of that. So, please keep her in your positive thoughts.

I am also so very worried about our famous freestyling Golden boy, Rookie. This very loving guy, who amazingly has a 15th birthday coming up in January, is dealing with increased symptomatology from his recent cancer diagnosis. My heart just sinks to my feet whenever I read the short updates from Carolyn, as they always manage to speak volumes.

I do know, at these times, that time is always better spent on celebrating the time we have, and remaining in the moment. And, I know that Carolyn is doing just that as she no longer leaves Rookie’s side.

I thought I would make a small clip from footage obtained for our upcoming Gotta Dance Documentary to show Carolyn just how much her special relationship with her little yellow boy, as she refers to Rookie, has meant to thousands all over the world. Listen to the words that Dr. Allen Schoen shares as he speaks to the gift that Carolyn and Rookie have provided so many.

Ponies to Guide the Blind

Ponies to Guide the Blind
BBC News

Shetland ponies are being trained to help people who are blind or partially sighted.
The ponies, which are only slightly bigger than dogs, could have a longer working life than labradors and may also have a better memory. And a centre in Nottinghamshire is already half way through a training schedule for a 27-inches-tall pony named Rosie.Guide Horses UK’s Janine Martin of Fiskerton, near Southwell, Nottinghamshire, says Rosie is completely house trained and may make a better guide for a blind person than the traditional dog. Ms Martin said: “Horses have a fantastic long term memory and will remember commands for decades afterwards.”