The most dreaded predator the world over is a lion and when a person decides to make a lion his friend, it is bizarre and unthinkable and is considered a death warrant.

But for Victoria Falls based lion handler, the king-of-the-jungle has become his best friend.

Lions have been celebrated throughout history for their courage and strength.

For one to develop a bond with the dreaded predator, certainly that calls for a lot of courage, patience and most importantly passion.

Born and bred in the coal mining town of Hwange, 40 year old Jabulani Mathe always looked up to his father, a game ranger with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) as his role model.

It was during his childhood that Mathe developed the passion for wildlife.

Known by his peers as JB, Mathe joined the Victoria Falls conservation project, Lion Encounter, since the very beginning and had the pleasure of being introduced to the first cubs that arrived at the site.

For Mathe, the lions have become his friends and is proud to have learnt a lot from interacting with the big cats.

JB is part of the African Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Project team whose mission is to ensuring a secure future for the African lion.

There are currently four lions at the sanctuary, Khumalo, Khalanga, Kion and Tshaka.

Mindful of the earlier safety briefing and the need to always stay alert, it did not take long for the news crew to be part of the pride, thanks to Kalanga’s warm reception.

Having been part of the African Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Project for many years, Mathe feels he still has a lot to learn about the big cats and is confident the project will continue to get recognition.

As a leaner guide, part of Mathe’s job entails sharing the beauty of nature and wildlife with tourists who visit the conservation project site.

The father of four said he does not regret taking his career path adding that he feels much at home working with the big cats.