As the African Conference comes to an end, it got me thinking about the last time I was in Johannesburg and the fun I had with the lion cubs at the Ukutula Lodge and Game Reserve.
In June 2016, I was fortunate enough to explore the Ukutula lodge and reserve, spending the day with little lion cubs and learning about the research and rescue projects that happen here. Early on Friday morning, we set off with our tour guide to a part of South Africa called the North West Province, it was approximately an hour away from our hotel, so I was able to catch up on my sleep ahead of the busy day. When we arrived at Ukutula, we were met by a lovely lady who would be our guide for the day.
The baby lions
Our first activity of the day was meeting the babies of the reserve, interacting with them and learning about lion cubs. They were adorable, basking in the mid-morning sun I wanted to stay with them all day! We spent around half an hour here playing with the cubs and learning about their everyday life. Believe it or not, the cubs in the photos above are only babies but they were already strong and powerful.
In the next enclosure, we found the teenagers, almost three times the size of the babies we were warned to be cautious around these guys as any sudden movements could startle them, and then it’s game over! You could tell just by watching them they were ready to be released into the enclosure to begin adulthood, the way the moved and watched you, I was very wary of getting up close. The leader assured me they are gentle creatures, just look at those eyes! Their fur was very different to that of the babies, it was a lot coarser and shorter and their paws were huge! almost double the size of my hand. We spent a good 20 minutes here and then it was time to move on to the cheetah enclosure.
The adults and other species
At Ukutula, it is not just a lion park, but also a very successful and known world-class research and Conservation facility, specialising in Wildlife Research and Predator Conservation. The research carried out here is vital for the survival of these animals. At the UCC they have a state of the art Genetic Bio-Bank for endangered mammal species.
Did you know…
The lion populations throughout much of Africa are heading towards extinction more rapidly than previously thought, decreasing from 1,2 million (1800) to less than 25 000 (2016).
It was fascinating learning about the research that happens here at Ukutula. they do it to help these animals, not to just to expand human knowledge. At the moment they are researching into the effect of cub/wildlife-interaction on human connection with wildlife and their relationships with nature, as well as various other projects on feline reproduction and cryopreservation of genetic material of endangered wildlife species.
Ukutula is a special place, unlike your city zoos, the animals are safe and protected here. Ukutula has taken a stand against the hunting of predators. They do not make a distinction between so-called “ethical” and “unethical” hunting, as the killing of animals for sport or pleasure stands in sharp contrast to our belief that we are caretakers of our wildlife. I find this so important as I do not agree with “profit only” organisations.
This trip is one I will never forget, and I hope to one day return to see how the work they are carrying out here has impacted on the lives of these beautiful creatures.