In the scorching South African heat, Kevin Richardson knows it's best to let sleeping lions, lie. And sometimes he joins them.
As the sun rises to its full ascent, a pride can be seen resting in the shade of a tree. And nestled against the stomachs of lions drifting in and out of consciousness, is 34-year-old Richardson -- fast asleep.
"That for me is true acceptance. I can lie down with them. I can sleep with them. I can interact with them as if I were a lion," says Richardson. "It's something I'd like the world to see."
At his 1,800-acre wildlife refuge outside Johannesburg, Richardson has raised an entire pride of lions to accept him as one of their own.
"Lions can be extremely affectionate. They can show you affection that I've never had from a human," he says.
Watch Richardson and his lions on "Primetime Outsiders" TUESDAY at 10 p.m. ET
The trust, remarkably, can be mutual. One lioness braves her fear of water and swims out to Richardson simply to be near him when he calls. And then drapes her 350 pound body around his body, using him as a life raft.
"Words can't describe it. It's something that you cannot tell people how you feel because you got to experience it to feel it and it's a privilege, privilege, privilege," Richardson said. "You run out of superlatives."
Such interactions are wondrous, even terrifying -- and very real. Richardson is the first to recognize the dangers of living in one of the wildest feline families nature never intended.
"I've been mauled by lions that are my friends. If you don't react instantaneously, you're dead," says Richardson.
Kevin also acknowledges that in the wild, even what he describes as his honed sixth sense would not protect him from a lion attack.
"The big headline newspaper article was 'Lion Whisperer'. And everyone's been e-mailing me saying you're the Lion Whisperer. Well, not really because I can't go up into a wild pride of lions and start talking to them and saying 'hey, listen I'm not a threat. I'm going to come up now and tickle you on the throat'. I'm going to get eaten just like anyone else would get eaten," cautions Richardson.
But there is a method to what some might consider madness. Richardson, a former exercise physiologist, turned his attention instead to the powerful musculature and behavior of captive lions. He has since spent a decade studying them.
Using instinct and anticipation, Richardson discovered early on how to interact with the big cats. And through a kind of baptism by fire, and the occasional well-placed claw, he learned to break just about every commandment in the lion trainer's bible.
"I don't walk into an enclosure and go, 'Oh, today I'm going to push the boundaries of how far I can put my head in a lion's mouth.' These relationships, everyone must always realize, have taken years and years and years to develop," reminds Richardson.
Those relationships were crucial four years ago when Richardson began shooting his first feature film "White Lion: Home is a Journey" starring lions he'd trained since cubs.