By Danny Baggott @DAN_BAGGIE

MEET the daring animal lover who spends his days cuddling tigers and playing football with a pride of lions

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Videographer / director: Nathan Pellow-Jarman
Producer: Danny Baggott, Ruby Coote
Editor: Tom Buckman

 

Armand Gerber, 51, runs the Iron Throne Predator and Wildlife Park in South Africa, with the help of his wife, Beatrice.

With more than 80 hectares of beautiful land, Armand houses 10 lions, three tigers, two leopards and a cheetah – in addition to porcupines, warthogs and smaller cats. 

Armand hand-feeds lion brothers, Rufus and Brutus, who each weigh a colossal 550lbs.

He rescued the majority of his animals from places with bad publicity and his biggest dream is to provide a forever-home for those most in need.

Armand told Beastly: “You’d be surprised by how much love these animals give you back.

“My job is probably the most rewarding in the world.

“All the animals here are captive born, 90 percent of them remain raised by us – but the most important thing is that eight of our lions come from a facility that was closed down for bad publicity.

“In our eyes, they’re rescues. They’ve got a forever home. I’ve had to defend the fact that we own lions every day, but if I could, I would own all the captive lions in the world.”

Armand admits that he gets a thrill when interacting with his exotic pets - and that not much compares to his very first experience with them.

“The first time I interacted with an exotic animal was at a farm in Limpopo,” he said.

“My first interaction was unforgettable. I jumped in and raised two lions.

“You know, if you haven’t raised them you will never have that same bond.”

Armand and Beatrice met through their love of animals.

Beatrice, 25, has since gone on to help Armand at the park with daily chores.

She said: “I do the marketing, well, that’s my biggest thing.

“I actually do a bit of everything. I’m a tour guide on weekends when they’re short staffed, I’m the receptionist, I interact with some of the animals and I clean the cages.

“I do get a fright every time Armand goes in with the animals. But I still love what we do, it brings a lot of love to my heart.

“And to see his passion, is just amazing. I’m very proud of him.”

Armand often ends his day covered in cuts and scratches from his animals, but he is fully aware that this is just part of the process.

He said: “Their muscle power is enormous.

“I have lots of scratches, lots of blood. These things happen. Their instinct is to play and bite.

“If you don’t trust them, you shouldn’t go in with them. If you disrespect the animal, it will hurt you.

“You always have to maintain your concentration and respect is key. You don’t do stupid things.

“It’s difficult to say what my favourite animal is. I would probably say the leopards – I have a special bond with them.”

Armand feeds his animals every other day to ensure their weight is kept at a healthy level.

He said: “Feeding time here is quite a busy time.

“We do not allow members of the public to be here when we’re feeding.

“Our animals do not share, it can be dangerous. Our biggest problem is to keep their weight down.

“It is much worse for a cat to be overfed than underfed – we have to control that.

“The cost factors are huge for us because you can’t just give them anything. It has to be proper meat.”

Armand now has a five year plan to expand his park and start up a project to breed and release African wild cats.

“You can watch this space for details - we're expanding and we've got a five year plan,” Armand continued.

“We want to start a project to breed and release African Wildcats.

“They are in big problems and have pressure on them, basically, because they are breeding themselves out of existence.

“Some people think I’m crazy for doing this job. Some people think I’m testing my fate.

“You must remember, I do this for a living and I do it out of love and trust.

“I forget how fortunate I am to be able to work and love these animals.

“They’re my family.”