An Instagram star who shares terrifying videos of himself playing with lions is being investigated for alleged animal cruelty after he was filmed punching one of his cubs.
Dean Schneider, 27, who quit his job as a financier in Switzerland to look after a pride of lions at a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa, uploaded a clip of himself striking a cub after it used its claws to scratch his shoulder.
The footage, taken last year, has now been shared with South Africa's national animal welfare agency which said it had been 'inundated' with complaints.
Schneider, who runs the Hakuna Mipaka Oasis reserve, has been compared to Joe Exotic, the anti-hero of Netflix documentary series Tiger King, after attracting almost seven million followers on Instagram by sharing pictures and videos of himself frolicking about with the supposedly dangerous wild animals.
But what goes on at his park is shrouded in secrecy, according to Douglas Wolhunter of the national society for the prevention of cruelty to animals.
'My main mission is to bring animals into people's hearts to inspire and educate people globally about the animal kingdom.
Dean Schneider, 27, who quit his job as a financier in Switzerland to look after a pride of lions at a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa, uploaded a clip of himself striking a cub after it used its claws to scratch his shoulder
He told The Times it had been difficult to investigate Schneider due to a 'lack of transparency at the park'.
Defending Schneider, a spokesman said that as he was in close contact with wild animals he 'needs to communicate his boundaries'.
He added: 'Dean has a deep love for his animals and wildlife in general and would never use unnecessary force of any kind.'
In March, Schneider - who was not trained before building his private zoo - spoke of what life was like working with lions.
'I wouldn't call it playing with lions,' he said. '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.
'It's definitely not a good idea to play with lions!'
Defending Schneider, a spokesman said that as he was in close contact with wild animals he 'needs to communicate his boundaries'
Despite the fact he spends much of his days since moving to South Africa frolicking with strong, toothsome beasts, Schneider 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.
'Getting hurt by a lion while spending time with them is totally normal.'