Our first post about Ukutula Lion Research Center provides directions and a comprehensive overview of their activities, vision and research against bovine tuberculosis that causes a huge amount of lion casualties in the wild. This post is about the cub interaction and an activity that Enrique didn't try during his first visit, the walk with lions.
WARNING : CUTENESS OVERLOAD
We entered the cub area to discover that this time, they had three baby tigers as well as a bunch of lions - last time there was only one. It was very interesting to observe how baby tigers are complete bullies while lion cubs are a lot more calm. The lions would be there hanging and then, a tiger would jump on their back to provoke them to enter the game. They also jumped on us. They rolled around, bit each other, splashed in the lake... It was a total show. They will sometimes try and jump over you, so it is a good idea to bring old clothes to the park - something that could get scratched or broken without being a fatal mistake.
We then moved into the hyena area. The two brothers were a bit tired after a whole day of play and heat, but still gave some funny look to the little girl in our group. She had been banned from participating in any of the interactions, as the guide feared that cubs could see her as prey and attack - apparently this kind of incident occurred already with a really short lady, who was attached by a cheetah, with no fatal consequences but a shock nevertheless.
After that, it was time for the walk with the lions. When the lions are older than 6 months, they are moved from the cub interaction area into a bigger enclosure. Some of them are taught by the guides, so they can be taken out for a walk, as they know they will get some chickens - for them this is not a full meal or a half meal, more of popcorn - and a nice leg stretch. It is very special to see how they walk, how they climb, how they behave and showcase different personalities. These kind of parks serve both research and educational purposes, because teaching kids to love nature is an effective way to raise adults that protect endangered species and consider environmental as a critical issue we can all contribute to.
They are a bit scary when they just come out.
But having the guide and some sticks apparently makes you feel a lot safer.
During the walk, we stopped twice to feed the lions some snacks and have some time for questions.
Note that some of these lions are male, but they do not have the mane yet as it grows when lion is sexually mature - at roughly 4 years old.
When we came back, the tinniest rascal of them all - Lukas was only 5 weeks old so we were not allowed to interact with him - had run away, so they caught him... And we got a chance to shoot this nice pic.
It is important to keep in mind that all these animals are born and raised in captivity, so they cannot be returned to the wild as they would die there. All animals are chipped with RFID (ecoscan) so that lions can be tracked during their lifetime, even if they leave the Ukutula facilities.