Saturday, 22 September 2012

Ukatulu Lion Reserve

Ukatulu Lion Reserve

A couple hours away from Johannesburg is the Ukatulu Lion Reserve which specialises in breeding white lions among other members of the cat family. Luckily for me Louis knew the owner so I was privy to a late night show with the cubs which were only a matter of weeks old upon our arrival, something most people won't get the chance to do.

There were eleven of them in total, three a little older than the others, and all totally adorable. All they wanted to do was cuddle up and get warm as they were ready to bed down for the night, much the same as any other time of day for these furry creatures. However, you still have to be careful, even at this age their teeth are sharp.

As is always the case when the weather is good and the stars are out it's time for a braai (bbq), and in South Africa I was really spoiled for choice, especially compared to the meat on offer in India. This time beef steak kebab skewers, I mean proper steak, wors (sausage) and snacks were the order of the day. So good, something to get used to I think.

Surrounded by cubs

Cosying up for the night

Braai time

In the morning there were two activities organised: a walk with the lions and a tour of the actual sanctuary to see all the animals and to hear what it is that happens in the reserve.

First off was the lion walk which is exactly as it sounds; a walk with lions. This involves a trainer and another game reserve employee who know and understand the lions and who lead the group. Only two lions are chosen between the ages of one and two, in this case Samson and Poppy. Any more and it could be a little dangerous.

Our group was seven strong so we didn't look too vulnerable to the lions and by staying as a group the lions are meant to think they are part of a pack. Just don't straggle behind taking photos or bend down to tie your shoelace or you'll suddenly look like an attractive snack for them.

The walk basically consisted of following a path through a separate part of the reserve where the lions are free to roam around and play. They were kept under control by the trainer and bribed a little with some frozen chicks. Whatever keeps them off my scent is okay by me.

The walk includes three stops where the chicks are put into trees to try and encourage the lions to jump up and put on a bit of a show for the cameras, meanwhile you try to quickly get your picture taken without getting to close.

However, it is imperative not to try and communicate with them in any way during the tour because if they think you are socialising with them, they will try and socialise back. Not advisable.

Path on the lion walk

Samson, or maybe Poppy

Again, not sure which one but rather close

Snack time

Careful now

Wait for it

After the lion walk it was time for the general tour. As well as a white lion breeding program, people have the opportunity to see cheetah, leopards, tigers and more lions. All of them are kept in massive enclosures and it's obvious the animals are well looked after and cared for. Hopefully more places like this will start to pop up to help the cat family.

At the end of the tour, when all the big cats have been viewed you get the chance to play with the bigger cubs, the six-month-old ones. They actually live in an enclosure where the huts for the employees are, so when you exit your hut, you are literally greeted by lions. You have to show these little ones who's boss or you'd be in a bit of bother.

However, they were fun to play with and as they're always sleepy, just wanted to cuddle up in the shade half the time. Just watch out for your fingers when you're tickling them under the chin.

Volunteers huts with the youngsters


Slightly bigger than your average tabby
Only here for the one night but had a wonderful time with the lions, couldn't believe how up close and personal you get to the them, especially the one to two year olds on the lion walk. Another place I would love to come back to, if only to play with the young cubs again.

Next stop, and this one is right at the top of my list; cage diving with great white sharks.

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