It was in early 2014 that I came across an agency called Real Gap that offered an array of adventures involving animals. The top suggested trip was ‘Live With Lion Cubs in South Africa’ and it instantly appealed. I researched flights and came up with a realistic plan to book it for 2015 so I had enough time to pay off the balance and prepare.
The information available to me from Real Gap was limited. I had PDF downloads of our ‘Full Trip Notes’ that detailed our itinerary, a packing list and an explanation of what the trip entailed. Nowhere in these notes did it mention the name of the park and when I called Real Gap to ask, the representative didn’t know but implied that it could be Lion Park. Naturally I was excited to look up Lion Park, but what came up on Google was the opposite of what I had expected. There were numerous articles and documentaries detailing Lion Park’s involvement with the canned hunting industry. I emailed Real Gap about this and received a comprehensive reply convincing me that this was not the case and it was later, during me stay at Ukutula, that I was looking at a Facebook page about Canned Hunting and found exactly the same email that a previous volunteer had received.
I have asked Real Gap on numerous occasions to see the signed agreements mentioned in the above email and they have yet to be supplied to me.
During my stay, Willi started by detailing the partnership with the University of Pretoria in a study into the white gene in lions. He spoke at length about the differences between ethical and unethical breeding, and how at Ukutula the female lions were put on contraception to slow the number of cubs born at the park. This would eventually mean cutting down the number cub petting experiences available to the public. He went on to explain how the lions are eventually released into a reserve in the Congo, allowing them to roam free.
Halfway into the hour long introduction, Willi mentioned a new tracking system that the park was developing to allow them to follow the lions once they were sold. The lions were being microchipped in the hope of ensuring that they wouldn’t end up in zoos or other sad fates. During the two weeks we were there, I never heard anyone talk about the tracking system and we’re not convinced it actually exists. Willi mentioned how they sell the lions with a 2 year no-resale policy, yet he implied on numerous occasions, once out of his hands the lions’ fate is out of his control.
The reality of the situation is that Ukutula are not contributing any ground breaking research of any kind to the University of Pretoria and there is certainly no evidence of a tracking system that can ensure their lions are not ending up in canned hunts.