Johannesburg : Ukutula Lion Research Centre

My fascination with felines originates from earlier than I recall. I was 10 when we adopted a 3 month old Mochin from the cat rescue in my hometown. We grew up together. Observing each other from a distance, cuddling in the chilly nights and learning how to walk gracefully (in paws or heels). Thing is, my love for cats kept growing and growing. Then I moved out, spent 8 years abroad. Mochin passed away in 2008 and well, I eventually returned to Spain, under the promise of having a cat back to my life - so Byakko joined our home.

Some people criticized us for chosing a purebreed cat over a rescue one, still I was very mesmerized by the idea of sharing home with a new level of wildness. Bengals are (at least) four generations away from an Asian Leopard Cat - a small wildcat native of South East Asia - but they  still showcase very special personality traits. Bengal is not a breed for beginners. Byakko is very demanding of attention, always willing to play, much stronger and more active than the average house cat. Still he is also very loving and caring, always licking your hand and rolling on the floor when you arrive home from work, until he gets you to scratch his tummy.

Some years ago, I watched this National Geographic documentary called animals in the womb where embryo development between different species was compared, using advanced 4D ultrasound and recreation. We are used to the human pregnancy imaging, but this was the first time to use it with felines. Ironically, the cat and the lion embryos are extremely similar until the last months, when the unique features are developed. However, even after being born their behaviour is apparently much more alike than we think - Enrique told me that lion cubs played in the same way as Byakko and that they also loved to have someone scratching their chin.

Ukutula Lion Research Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa is a great place for lion, leopard and other African animal encounters - plus some other non-African felines, such as tigers. South Africa may not be the safest place on Earth, but the park is worth visiting if you are a feline nerd like myself (^_^) The conservation work is also very critical, since a majority of the pantherinae (i.e. big felines like tiger, lion, jaguar, leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard) species are endangered - maybe because of the beauty of their skin, their powerful features and the apparent pleasure that some f***ing a****le find on hunting them. In addition to lions, they feature other felines and animals that find a home in this place of quiet.

The human fascination with lions comes from our early days on Earth. Lions were first captured by human art in the Paleolithic (32000 years ago) in some ivory carving. They were then taken by all ancient cultures (Egypt, Mesopothamia, Persia, Greece, Roma) to provide a sense of majesty and awe, at the entrance of buildings, decorating coins or becoming the symbol for cities, tribes and gods.

Lions even made it to China, despite NOT being native of the far eastern territories. It all started in India, where a native Asiatic Lion species - now endangered - was adopted as symbol of the reincarnation of Vishnu into a man-lion, so the lion became worshipped by Hinduism. Cultural depictions and the reverence of lion as the noble yet powerful beast in Asia was influenced by Indian culture, through Buddhism. Ever wondered where all these funny lion statues around Asia were coming from? There you go, cannot get any better outof an artist who never saw a real one

Lion cub


Baby Leopard - behaving much as Byakko does

Baby Tiger, food & mum

Lion King

Such a lovely day.

Ukutula [WEB]
Open: 10 - 14 (Monday - Sunday)
Fee: 33€ (lion encounter, without walking with lions)

*If you are not staying there, it takes about 1.5h by car from Johannesburg (Sandton area)

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