‘They treat me like a brother’: Wildlife worker shows off his extraordinary bond with lions as he play-fights with three big cats in South Africa

South Africa

A Swiss financier who quit his job to look after a pride of lions in South Africa has shared terrifying images showing him getting up close and personal with the ferocious animals.

Unnerving footage shows Dean Schneider standing calmly to the greet three big cats who come bounding out of long grass and knock him to the ground.

The 27-show had been very successful in conventional business life but decided he wanted to follow his passion of wildlife advocacy.

Swiss financier Dean Schneider, 27, quit his job to look after a pride of lions and other wildlife at his Hakuna Mipaka Oasis reserve in South Africa's wilderness
Swiss financier Dean Schneider, 27, quit his job to look after a pride of lions and other wildlife at his Hakuna Mipaka Oasis reserve in South Africa’s wilderness

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.

Unnerving footage shows Dean standing calmly to the greet three big cats who come bounding out of long grass and knock him to the ground

Unnerving footage shows Dean standing calmly to greet three big cats who come bounding out of long grass and knock him to the ground

'I wouldn't call it playing with lions,' says Dean. 'Because it's more living with lions, and being part of their pride'

‘I wouldn’t call it playing with lions,’ says Dean. ‘Because it’s more living with lions, and being part of their pride’

‘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.

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. Pictured: With Dexter the lion
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. Pictured: With Dexter the lion

'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'
‘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. ‘

His reserve, the Hakuna Mipaka Oasis, is a expensive enterprise, with costs including building camps, feeding animals, paying vet bills and a new second fence planned for an enlarged lion enclosure
His reserve, the Hakuna Mipaka Oasis, is a expensive enterprise, with costs including building camps, feeding animals, paying vet bills and a new second fence planned for an enlarged lion enclosure

‘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.

Dean says that he would stop short of interacting with really wild animals, who are much more likely to see him as a threat. Pictured: Chuckie the hyena with Dean's hand in his mouth
Dean says that he would stop short of interacting with really wild animals, who are much more likely to see him as a threat. Pictured: Chuckie the hyena with Dean’s hand in his mouth

'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'

‘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’

‘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.

'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'
‘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

'The more you understand them, the more you can communicate with them clearly. I think that's the secret'

‘The more you understand them, the more you can communicate with them clearly. I think that’s the secret’

‘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.’

'Lions break everything down into a simple picture and this makes them often very wise as they think situations'

‘Lions break everything down into a simple picture and this makes them often very wise as they think situations’

‘In my opinion, they are even cleverer or more intelligent than we humans are, because our superintelligence makes us stupid.’

Dean has put a lot of thought into how his lions perceive the world.

‘Lions break everything down into a simple picture and this makes them often very wise as they think situations.

‘They build incredible strategies. You can see the way they try to approach something when they have a goal, when they want to get to a place, when they want to jump on you or when they want to do something else.

'My main mission is to bring animals into people's hearts to inspire and educate people globally about the animal kingdom.

‘My main mission is to bring animals into people’s hearts to inspire and educate people globally about the animal kingdom.

‘Lions set up a certain strategy and you can see that. You can see the entire process of how they are getting to their goal. And this is just amazingly intelligent for me.’

Dean firmly believes animals live in more fair, just societies than human beings.

‘Every single one in the pride including me – plays a different role.

‘Everybody is aware of his own position and of his own role they play and nobody steps out of the line.

‘And this is super interesting because if you look at a soccer team or a family, we humans tend to struggle to stay in line and to do what we are here for.

Despite the challenges, Dean is happy with his life choices and is unlikely to get back into the cut-throat world of finance any time soon

Despite the challenges, Dean is happy with his life choices and is unlikely to get back into the cut-throat world of finance any time soon

‘Animals know exactly who has which position and what they need to do. They also know exactly when they do something wrong.’

If seeing these remarkable images and clips inspires you to help in Dean’s mission, he has a few projects on the go.

‘I’m building a huge audience on social media – this is very important because my main mission is to bring animals into people’s hearts to inspire and educate people globally about the animal kingdom.

‘Everything goes towards the cause of my mission, which is the animals.

His reserve has however proved to be a costly enterprise.

‘Maintaining the Hakuna Mipaka Oasis is combined with high costs. This includes building camps, feeding animals, paying vet bills and much more.

‘I also have a specific project called the “Live Wild” project. My property is in total 360 hectares big and I want to contribute the main part of my property (300 hectares), which would be the back of the farm, to the lion pride so that they can live and hunt by themselves and live as wild as possible.

‘But to do that, I need to build a second fence around the permit fence. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get permission to do that.’

Despite the challenges, Dean is happy with his life choices and is unlikely to get back into the cut-throat world of finance any time soon.

‘Making money is fun, and you can buy a lot of things,’ he says.

‘But these things only make you happy for a certain period. Whilst building something through your own passion, something which makes a difference on this planet, will make you happy for a lifetime and that’s why I then decided to move to South Africa to dedicate my time, my money and everything that I am to the animal world.’

By WILLIAM COLE FOR MAILONLINE

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