The big cat, along with a lioness, live in Reece’s back garden… in a village in Nottinghamshire.
“This lion loves me, he’s obsessed with me,” Reece says, as the lion licks his face through the bars of a cage.
Reece, who also owns a puma, a big cat from North America, continued, “I saved them from Eastern Europe, they were going to euthanize a lot of cats and asked if I wanted the lion cubs?
“I raised them like they were my children, aged 10 to 11 days.”
They belong to nature, but these lions are among the 4,000 dangerous exotic animals that live in British homes and gardens today.
Ross meets the real British “Tiger Kings” in a new two-part ITV series to find out what makes someone want to own a wild animal.
“I didn’t think it was possible to own a lion or a tiger privately in this country,” says Ross. “I found it really revealing and disturbing to find out how easy it is to find one and get permission to keep it legally. ”
Under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, anyone in Britain can keep a dangerous wild animal as long as they obtain a license from their local authority.
The authorization process requires the applicant to demonstrate that their animals are properly contained to protect the public. But animal rights charities argue that this does not guarantee the welfare of the animals or the protection of the owner and anyone else visiting the property.
Reece himself admits that it’s “too easy” to get a dangerous animal license.
“You just need to know the people there,” he says. “There is an abundance of animals raised in Eastern Europe which are too easy to obtain. All you have to do is tick a few boxes. ”
But he adds: “You have to have experience, you have to know what you’re doing. A lion isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life. When Ross asks Reece about the ethics of keeping wild animals as pets, he says their situation would be worse without him.
It’s an attitude the presenter found in owners of all walks of life, who were all fiercely protective and unwilling to donate the animals to a zoo or sanctuary.
“They’re better off here with me, I’ll never give up on them,” Reece told him.
“If you take these lions away from me or the environment they know, it’s going to be stressful for them. They are happy here and love me… when I’m not there I miss them a bit.
But other villagers disagree.
One of them said to Ross, “My fear is that on this tiny piece of land there isn’t enough space to provide these wild animals with what they were born to. In my opinion, this is wrong. Ultimately, I’d like Reece to think about what’s best for these animals.
In Horncastle, Lincs, Ross meets Andrew Riddel and his partner Tracy who own more than 200 animals.
These include lions, zebras and brown bears. They also had a tiger that recently had to be shot.
The couple started their collection in 2013 when Andrew gave Tracy a zebra for her birthday.
Neither Andrew nor Tracy have any formal training in the care of dangerous animals, but insist that the creatures are well cared for and have a good quality of life.
Andrew tells Ross, “It’s not rocket science. Ask people how much room does a bear want to sleep, how much room does he want in an enclosure?
“If it’s 30 meters by 30 meters, we have walked 40 meters by 40 meters.”
Ross interrupts him: “Some people would say you have to do 40 miles by 40 miles …”
Andrew replies, “Well, they have to do what I’m doing, put my whole life and soul into it, fuck their ass and come and try.” It’s very simple. ”
He adopted a circus tiger, Syas, three years ago, but Syas fell ill and had to be shot.
Andrew tells Ross that he never cried when his parents died but shed a tear when he lost the tiger: “I’ll be honest with you… I cried a little. You don’t want to show it. Everyone thinks you are tough. We can all buy a Rolex, but you can’t go to Tesco and buy a tiger.
“It was my cat, given to me. He left. He was a bit of a devil, he wanted to kill you every second.
“It was the buzz to have him. Like a motorcyclist traveling 200 mph around a circuit. I am honored to be able to own one. ”
Ross also meets Jim Clubb, an animal trainer whose Oxfordshire company Amazing Animals rents felines and monkeys for TV shows and movies.
Chris Packham has previously called the business “appalling” and Ross is clearly uncomfortable when Jim shows how one of his tigers has an injection on purpose without being.
He says, “Jim was eager to show off the benefits of animal training, but making it easier to inject his tiger seemed secondary to the primary purpose of the training, it was a business enterprise.
“Whether people agree or not with this practice, it occurred to me that by consuming films, music videos, many of us participate in it.”
The last person Ross meets is Martin Lacey Jr, whose father raised 120 tigers in rural Lincolnshire. Martin took over the family circus business and trains big cats in Germany to perform under the big top.
Asked what the public will do with live animals in circuses, now banned in England, Scotland and Wales, Martin said: “England is a land of animal lovers, but unfortunately they don’t get it. animals.
“Animals have everything they need. You can see how beautiful they are, we really take care of them. Maybe they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we don’t take care of our animals.
Pressure is mounting on the government to revise the license that allows the private keeping of wild animals. Charity Born Free is among those calling for a change in the law to end it.
Ross says, “All the animals seemed to exist in some kind of limb. Born in captivity, they would not survive in the wild, nor could they be domesticated like a cat or a dog. A life lived in cages, even the largest, was only a shadow of the environment in which they had evolved to inhabit.
An earlier Netflix documentary Tiger King told the story of Joe Exotic, an American tiger breeder, jailed after plotting to kill an animal rights activist.
* Britain’s Tiger Kings – On the track with Ross Kemp starts next Tuesday, ITV, 9 p.m.