Dean Schneider, a Swiss financier, left his job to care for a pride of lions in South Africa, and has shared amazing footage of him interacting with these animals.
Incredible video shows Schneider calmly greeting three big cats who come running out of the grass and playfully knock him to the ground. Schneider, who had a successful career in business, decided to follow his passion for wildlife advocacy.
Today, he lives on a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa – which he runs – and regularly shares remarkable pictures and video of him frolicking with supposedly dangerous wild animals via Instagram.
‘I wouldn’t call it playing with lions,’ says Dean. ‘Because it’s more living with lions, and being part of their pride. ‘And yes, one part of it is, of course, playing – the same as we humans also like to play with one another. But there are a lot of other serious situations that I’m also part of and this is why I actually don’t like to promote what I’m doing as just playing with lions.
‘It’s definitely not a good idea to play with lions!’
Despite the fact he spends much of his days since moving to South Africa frolicking with strong, toothsome beasts, Dean says he’s never scared. ‘The moment I would start to be scared of them is the moment I would stop walking in there,’ he says.
‘Because fear is the last thing you should show when you’re around them. It’s anyway a fact that we only fear what we don’t know. As soon as you know something or you’re aware of a situation, even though the situation can be dangerous, you’re not scared of it. ‘With lions, I know exactly how they think and how they work. I’m communicating constantly with them when I’m spending time with them. So there was never a situation where I was scared, even when they hurt me.
‘Getting hurt by a lion while spending time with them is totally normal.’
However, even Dean would stop short of interacting with really wild animals. ‘You can definitely not pull it off in the wild and this will never be possible because hyenas live also in clans and if something could be a threat to them or there is something to eat around them, they are going to kill you.
‘Same as with the lions and even with my animals, no matter if they are out of captivity or not. ‘If you would just walk in there to Dexter and the pride or Chuckie the hyena by yourself, they would most probably kill you. ‘
‘It doesn’t matter if they are in the wild or captivity’
‘You can’t just go to a hyena clan or a lion pride simply with some talking and movements trying to get part of it. ‘You have to grow into it, you have to know them from small on and then you can do things like that. Otherwise this will never work.’ Amazingly, Dean never trained or even practised before getting stuck in with his animals.
‘It is hundred percent natural. They look at me like a brother, like a part of their family.’ Dean is quick to point out his role is not that of an authority figure in the animal’s eyes.
‘They don’t look at me like a teacher or a boss. There is no chance I could tell Dexter or one of my animals to walk there or to sit down or to do this and that. They will look at me and think like what is this guy talking about.
‘I’m not training these animals, I’m just basically living with them.’ Communication, according to Dean, is key: ‘I learn their language and I speak in their language.
‘Most of it is based on body language of course because every movement you do is like a word or a sentence. ‘So even when you move your eyeballs or your head into a certain direction whilst the rest of your body doesn’t move, that means already something and that is already a sign to them.
And it’s actually the body language which makes the magic. ‘The more you understand them, the more you can communicate with them clearly. I think that’s the secret.’
“In my view, lions may be even cleverer or more intelligent than humans, as our superintelligence often leads us astray.” Dean has devoted considerable thought to how lions perceive the world.
“Lions break everything down into a simple picture, which often makes them wise in their thinking about situations. They construct incredible strategies, apparent in the way they approach a goal, move towards a destination, pounce on prey, or engage in other activities.”
“Lions execute a certain strategy, and you can observe the entire process of how they reach their goal. This level of intelligence is impressive,” says Dean. He firmly believes that animals live in more equitable and just societies than human beings.
“Each individual in the pride, including myself, plays a different role. Everyone is aware of their position and the role they play, and no one steps out of line. This is fascinating because when we look at human teams, like soccer teams or families, we often struggle to maintain order and fulfill our roles.”
“Animals have a keen understanding of their social hierarchy and the tasks required of each member. They are also aware of their mistakes,” says Dean, who hopes to inspire and educate people globally about the animal kingdom.
Dean has several ongoing projects to support his mission. “Growing my social media audience is crucial because my main goal is to bring animals into people’s hearts. Everything I do goes towards supporting this mission.” However, maintaining the Hakuna Mipaka Oasis is a costly undertaking. “I must cover expenses such as building camps, feeding animals, and paying vet bills, among other things.”
One of his specific projects is the “Live Wild” initiative. “My property is 360 hectares, and I want to dedicate the largest part of it, 300 hectares, to a lion pride so that they can live and hunt independently and as wild as possible. To accomplish this, I must build a second fence around the permit fence to gain permission.”
Despite the challenges, Dean is content with his choices and has no intention of returning to the cut-throat world of finance. “Making money is enjoyable and allows you to acquire many things. However, these things only bring happiness for a short time. Creating something through your own passion that makes a difference in the world is what brings lasting happiness. That is why I moved to South Africa to dedicate my time, resources, and everything I have to the animal world.”