By Lucy Notarantonio
A stunning woman who was raised around Africa’s deadliest predators has proven why she’s a real life Dr Dolittle.
Petite Kristen Kerr, 21, has spent her entire life caring for wild animals after being born on an animal sanctuary.
She opted to be home schooled from 10-years-old as she missed the animals too much and her passion has only grown since childhood.
Now working full time at a sanctuary, Kirsten currently helps care for dozens of animals since opening in 2016.
From cheetahs and hyenas to giraffes, meerkats and zebras, no animal is considered too dangerous or small for the sanctuary.
Kristen said: “My dad Barry, 54 raises lions and other big cats he has taught me everything I know.
“We rescued three of our current cheetahs from a breeding farm, where the owner got into financial problems and lost his farm, one of which was pregnant, so I raised the cubs from birth.
“Most of the time, members of the public bring the animals to us if they feel they’re in danger or we rescue them, the mongooses were found in a drain following a flood.
“My house is ten yards away from the cheetah enclosure, so they are the first thing I see in the morning which is great.
“I moved to Johannesburg in September 2018 as I am still young and I thought I should at least try and experience the corporate world.
“But it wasn’t for me, I found people were always competing with one another like who has the best car etc. and I just wanted to be back where I belong with the animals.
“By January, I returned to the sanctuary and it was the best feeling in the world.
“It has become part of my daily routine to interact with animals whether they are big or small, it is all I have ever known.
“Half of the time I forget that the cheetahs are wild – I consider them to be more like house cats.
“It may sound crazy, but I feel like I can talk to the animals but without saying a word.
“It is all about body language, they read yours as much as you read theirs.
“I have raised three cheetahs since cubs, and they are like my family – I know they would protect me as much as I protect them.
“They are totally harmless; I lie on the floor with them and kiss their face and sometimes even sleep in the enclosure with them.
“I look after seven more cheetahs, one of which is wild, I am in the process of building a respectful relationship with him.
“One rule that I stick by is never forcing the animals to be my friend, I show that I am not going to hurt them and slowly getting closer every day to gain their trust.
“It usually takes a month to build their trust but if I ever overstep the mark, the cheetah jumps up and slaps his paws on the ground which means that is enough.
“I have never been hurt by the animals, but I am sure if they ever did hurt me, then it is likely to be my own fault.
“The first big cats I ever met were two three-month-old lions when I was 11 and I still remember the wave of joy that went through my body.
“It is a surreal experience and I am lucky enough to live it every single day.”
Kristen also cares for three mongoose and two Serval cats at the sanctuary and says the Lion King has given hyena’s a bad name as they are ‘remarkable animals’.
Kristen moved to the city after finishing her studies in 2017 but she says it was draining and moved back to the sanctuary after three months.
It isn’t just the wild animals she missed but her pet rats, rabbits, cats and dog too.
She adds: “I hated every day in the office, sitting behind a computer was not for me.
“I prefer feeding the big cats and getting my hands dirty in the enclosures – I also educate volunteers about the animals and show them exactly how amazing they are.
“I have loved animals ever since a baby – when I was younger, kids used to cruelly pick baby birds out of the nests and leave them to die but I would save them.
“The first animal I ever raised was a squirrel who had been orphaned when I was six and I nursed him back to good health before setting him free.
“I also looked after a duiker who had been sprayed in the eye by a cobra – even though the animal was completely wild, she felt safe and didn’t run away until she felt better again.
“I don’t regret raising animals, they are all my best friends.”
To see more follow @kristenkerrafrica