By Crystal Chung @crystalkchung

THIS handsome lion looks as proud and professional as any male model sprawled across the bonnet of a white Mercedes G-class during a photo shoot

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Kevin and Adrian had 48 hours to conceptualise and shoot the perfect shot for a billboard depicting the plight of Africa’s lions and their future

But the image has a serious undertone.

It’s one of several in a new series shot with world-renowned Kevin Richardson. The “Lion Whisperer” had teamed up with wildlife photographer Adrian Steirn to shoot the perfect billboard shot - depicting the plight of Africa’s lions and their future.

The pictures were shot in December 2015 in collaboration with Mercedes Benz and give us glimpse behind the scenes as the pair tried to get the perfect shot.

World renowned animal behaviour expert Kevin Richardson wrestles comfortably with two fully grown lions

Their aim was a single picture that would capture a conservation message: “What legacy will we leave for our future generations?”

One candid image - between takes - shows expert Kevin Richardson wrestling comfortably with two fully grown lions.

In others we see one the majestic animals inspecting a camp fire and prowling on top of the Mercedes.

A lion perches on top of the Mercedes SUV as photographer Adrian Steirn takes its photo from inside the vehicle

Photographer Steirn, 36, said: “Hearing a two-ton vehicle creak and move and seeing the dents in the car that the lion left behind was a fascinating experience.

"It was unbelievable to see the size of their paws and how easily it was for them to jump onto the vehicle, just how athletic they are.”

Richardson is a conservationist whose work has brought millions of people around the world into the discussion about lion conservation.

Richardson has developed an intimate bond with his cats, walking freely with the animals

The founder of a wildlife sanctuary that is now home to over 30 lions, Richardson has developed an intimate bond with his cats and he famously walks freely with the animals.

Steirn added: “To be able to really understand Kevin’s background and relationship with these big cats was incredible. He puts his heart and soul into lion conservation, so to be able to showcase the cats and their massive value to our world in this way was a great opportunity.

Kevin and the Adrian worked to get a signature image on Richardson’s farm in Pretoria

“The lions weren’t wild but habituated lions. Kevin was at home in his wildlife sanctuary with these huge carnivores.”

The pair were given 48 hours to work with some of the most impressive predators in Pretoria’s Welgedacht Private Game Reserve.

Steirn said: “Hearing a two-ton vehicle creak and move and seeing the dents in the car that the lion left behind was a fascinating experience"

But getting the final winning shot proved to be less than easy because the lions had to first become accustomed to Steirn.

The challenge for the duo lay in framing the male lion to the right of a caged female behind bars in one of Richardson's transport, which was used as a makeshift prop to represent captivity. This image has been selected for the campaign.

As a series the images showcase an extraordinarily intimate relationship between human and apex predator

During the project the pair also ran into difficulty with bad weather conditions - facing a heavy storm in the first 24 hours of the shoot. “That put a lot of pressure on time,” said Steirn.

Richardson's unique relationship with the animals, built on a foundation of love and trust rather than forced submission, has captivated millions

Along with the shrinking habitat, the number of lions are decreasing rapidly with the current estimated population down to 20,000 - a major decrease on the estimated 100,000 in the early 1990s.

Wildlife photographer Adrian Steirn inside one of the cages as he captures close-up shots of the lions

“They are such big animals so I was very well aware of them because things can go wrong very quickly with the lions,” said Steirn.

“I have been shooting wild lions for almost 20 years now and to shoot these lions in this capacity and to get this close was really extraordinary.”

One of the lions poses comfortably like a male model on the bonnet of the SUV

To take a look at more of Adrian’s incredible work, follow him on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/adriansteirn/?hl=en

See a behind-the-scenes video on Mercedes Benz YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37ihxdt6qqw