Wild beasts that would scare the pants off most people are the very thing that excite and inspire others to be the best that they can be. Where most of us talk about wanting to save the animals, there are those few who risk everything to do it.
Then, of course, there are the ones crazy enough to think that a wild animal wants to be their friend, only to find out that it has no such intention. Crocodile Dundee wannabes have put themselves in precarious life threatening situations all in the name of thrill seeking. Many are unknown because they suffered deaths at the hands of untamable giants from nature.
It would be fair to say that many of the successful individuals have their critics, people who believe that what they are doing is wrong, even harmful to the animal. When it comes to wildlife there are many different opinions on the best way to do things, and even scientists have yet to come to a conclusive agreement. A number of these people also happen to be self-taught and formed these bonds in an unconventional manner, which understandably annoys those who paid for the best formal education possible.
It is those individuals who form long lasting bonds with the animals that enthrall us. They show us what is possible when our hearts are in the right place - and we have a sufficient budget for supporting exotic animal snuggling. It should be mentioned that many of the following examples of extraordinary humans spent years developing their bonds with the animals they chose. And in the end it was only possible because the animals chose them to be their friend and not their dinner.
6 Kevin Richardson
Kevin Richardson has become famous largely due to viral Youtube videos that demonstrate his bond with, and membership in, a pride of lions. A self-proclaimed bad boy and self-taught animal behaviorist, Richardson's journey in to the realms of the king of the jungle has been one of many years of dedication.
He has witnessed the harshness and lack of respect with which many trophy hunters treat the lions of Africa, and is on a passionate mission to save this beautiful creature from extinction. When you watch the videos, you see a man who is welcomed by his lion friends and can play with them in ways that you and I can only dream of.
The negative side to this story that some are seeing is that there are many who wish to follow in his footsteps and may take unnecessary risks. Richardson does not allow other people in with the animals, as it has proven to be an unwise move, but it means that he has many haters who want to do what he can do. When you read his story in his book Part of the Pride, you see exactly how heartache and determination has lead Richardson on the path that he is on to this day.
5 Jane Goodall
Gorilla's in the Mist was the movie that brought the name Jane Goodall to the mainstream. To this date she is considered to be the top expert of chimpanzees after conducting 45 years worth of research in to their different behaviors.
Paleantologist Richard Leakey sent Goodall to Cambridge University, where she graduated with a PhD in Ethology and was one of the first to do so without having first acquired an undergraduate degree. Because she had not been exposed to traditional collegiate training in the beginning, she paid attention to details that those with official training may have overlooked.
Now she is world famous for her work, and has even represented the UN as an ambassador to Peace.
4 Lawrence Anthony, Elephant Man
Lawrence Anthony received media attention when he went to Iraq at the end of the war in 2003 to rescue animals at the Bagdad zoo. A native South African, he did a lot to help protect the elephants throughout his life and was affectionately known as the Elephant Whisperer.
As with others in this list, he developed a relationship with the animals over a number of years with a focus of rehabilitating traumatized African elephants. He became intimately connected with a herd from the Thula Thula Reserve in Zululand and founded the Earth Organization, a non-profit that focuses on conservation around the planet. In his lifetime he published three books, was featured on many TV shows and showed up in magazine publications quite often.
Whether we consider him to be a celebrity or not is irrelevant - to the elephants he was a VIP. When he died in 2012 it is said that a number of elephants came to his home to honor him as they would their own kind.
3 Grizzly Man
Timothy Treadwell became famous when the critically acclaimed movie Grizzly Man hit movie screens around the world. Treadwell spent 13 summers amongst the bears in Katmai National Park & Preserve in Alaska, against the advice of park officials who consistently warned him that it was not safe for him or the bears. Throughout the years, he did get close to the animals, and some of them appeared to form bonds with him.
He saw himself as a Samurai warrior, avowed to protect his furry friends and filming his encounters to show the rest of the world what they faced in the wilds of North America. In the end he and his girlfriend were killed and partially eaten by one of the bears, though it has not been ascertained what lead to the mauling.
Many park rangers who were interviewed in relation to this case said that they thought it was amazing he had not been killed earlier and thought it set a dangerous precedent. Whether he was a nut case or a pioneer, the movie is well worth the time to watch.
2 Steve Irwin
Steve Irwin was another one who may have come across as a bit crazy. His thick Australian accent, his famous catchphrase "Crikey!" and his highly enthusiastic nature attracted audiences from around the world.
Irwin had learned at a young age how to handle crocodiles, and his lifelong training earned him the title of Crocodile Hunter, which was adopted as the name of his TV show. He quickly became internationally renowned for passionate environmentalism. He was always campaigning for endangered animals, as well as against the land clearing that leads to the loss of natural habitats for wildlife.
Some animal behaviorists did not like his approach, accusing him of being too aggressive. Others, such as Sir David Attenborough, thought that he was a natural communicator and through his passion encouraged millions of people to have more awareness about nature.
His life was cut short in 2006, when his chest and heart were pierced by the barb of a stingray that had probably thought him to be an attacking shark, or some other animal it needed to evade.
1 Cesar Millan
Cesar Millan has friends and foes in just as many numbers. There are those who feel his treatment of dogs is not beneficial to them, and his practices are unfounded in science. Some say they are even inhumane. At the same time, he has just as many who are glued to the screen to hear his advice on training their best friend.
Out of his methods have sprung an empire through which Millan sells DVDs, books, equipment and toys. One of the reasons that the experts are disenfranchised by his approach is that he is wholly self-taught and they believe that he has misinterpreted animals with his pack-leader methodology.
The main premise of this approach is addressing what he terms the three primary needs - exercise, discipline and affection. A big part of his training is in helping owners understand how their body language and emotions affect their dog so that they can assume the role of pack leader. Whether you are a fan or not, it cannot be denied that he has discovered a way to make a pretty penny through his relationship with animals.