The truth about volunteering with lions

Written by: Lucy Stewart

I had been an animal lover – more specifically a cat lover – since I was little. So when I finished school, it seemed only logical to sign up for an animal-focused volunteering trip.

I found Real Gap, a company centred around sending students abroad. Amongst their top trips was the ‘Live with Lion Cubs’ experience at Ukutula – a fortnight in South Africa with hands-on experience helping to rehabilitate lions, all in the name of conservation. The two-week experience cost £1,118 (ZAR25,689 at current exchange rate) excluding flights, but it seemed like such a good cause that I didn’t mind putting all my savings towards it.

Prior to the trip I was not at all clued up about the canned hunting business. I knew all about poachers and trophy hunting, but that didn’t strike me as being related to what I was about to do. I posted a tweet expressing my excitement about the trip, and received a message from a girl urging me to avoid Ukutula and that the reserve was affiliated with canned hunting. I was distraught but managed to convince myself that it was an online troll. The idea played on my mind, however, and I sent a message to a representative at Real Gap querying the reserve, but their response was just what I needed to ease my mind – they were disgusted at the very idea of canned hunting and assured me that the trip was solely for the sake of conservation.

On arriving at the reserve in July 2014, I was more excited than I had ever been. The reserve itself was beautiful, located in Brits, just outside of Johannesburg. We were shown to our room, which was in the ‘Devils’ enclosure – a small hut surrounded by the 26 three to six-month-old lion cubs.

There were eight volunteers in my group, who had all booked through the same company, along with another 25 volunteers, some of which had been to Ukutula before. On the reserve at the time were four young cubs, which we cared for on cub duty. The environment seemed welcoming enough, but the staff were incredibly rude sometimes and any questions regarding the animals were dismissed and scorned. For volunteers with no experience, to be treated like this was a bit off-putting.


In our duties of cleaning enclosures, however, I began to feel slightly uneasy. The female cheetah’s enclosure was small and overgrown, and she was alone in there for 24 hours a day. This did not make sense to me as the reserve was supposedly based on white lion conservation, so why was the cheetah there? The same situation applied to two tigers, which were fully grown and pacing back and forth in their enclosure. We were told that the tigers were mistreated when they were younger and would not survive in the wild alone. There were also two hyenas, which belonged to the owners’ son, who was one of the rangers there. These hyenas were treated like pets, but whenever we cleared their small and sparse enclosure, they would run the entire length of the enclosure back and forth in a straight line, looking utterly demented. It was heartbreaking, but the rangers assured us that this was their natural behaviour, and that they were ‘fairly stupid creatures’ anyway.

One of the workers on the reserve, a chef in the kitchen, had two pet caracals, which were kept in a small and unnatural enclosure. He assured us that they were small enough animals for this; he told us they “had all the space they need – they wouldn’t need any more.”

We were also shown two newborn cheetah cubs, which were kept alone in a tiny enclosure. We were not told very much about these two cubs, and were not allowed to enter their enclosure – only pet them through the bars. This was something else we found strange but, when asked, the rangers were extremely vague and never quite answered our questions about where the cubs came from or what would happen to them.

These photos capture the heartbreaking truth of the canned hunting industry – these animals should not be behind bars!

The volunteers were to take on cub duty for a large part of their stay, and this involved feeding, bathing and stimulating the four young lion cubs of about two months old to pass urine and faeces. These were the cubs available for guests who would come in to play with the animals. There were roughly two or three tours a day, of about a dozen or so members of the public, including some very young children. They would stay in the enclosure for about 20 minutes, passing the cubs around and posing for photographs. Any questions from the public were answered with the same scripted speeches – about conservation and how it was beneficial for cubs to interact with humans. However, the cub petting experience did not seem to be for any other reason than novelty and enjoyment.


Cub duty was basically carrying out the jobs which the mother usually does, as the cubs were so young they could not yet look after themselves. We were required to prepare the milk formula and feed the young cubs. Bathing them involved gently dunking them into a tub of warm water and soap, and scrubbing the lower half of their body before drying them off. The cubs did not enjoy this one bit and we were scratched to bits.

feeding-cub-milk cub-bathing

When we arrived at the reserve there was a five-day-old cub that still had it his eyes closed and was unable to even walk yet. We were given the surreal opportunity to care for this cub, while posing for photos and passing this tiny creature around like a toy. He was not available for the cub petting with the paying members of public, but towards the end of my time at Ukutula, the owner started to show him off to the public. At night, he was kept indoors with the owners, but if requested, any of the volunteers were able to have him stay in their room overnight.


The cub was taken from its mother and, when we questioned this, we were assured that it was for his own good, and it was to be released into the wild when it grew up. Volunteers are often told that these cubs are orphans or in danger of being attacked or eaten by the other lions, and can only be raised in this environment. Again, this is obviously false. At the end of my two-week stay, the little cub was moved into the other enclosure to interact with the four other young lion cubs there, and I assume this was the beginning of his ‘cub petting’ days.

Interacting so closely with a lion cub may seem like a very difficult thing to turn down. However, parks that offer ‘cub petting’ cannot be associated with promoting the welfare and conservation of lions. These cubs are passed around between volunteers and paying customers with no animal care experience, until they are too big to cuddle, by which point they are so used to human interaction that they would not survive in the wild.

At Ukutula, after they grow out of cub petting, they are moved into the ‘Devils’ enclosure, where there are huts for volunteers to stay in so that they get to see lions right outside their window. These lions were around four to six months old and had to be fed from a distance. Rangers and volunteers would prepare the food, which involved studding what looked like fairly rotten chickens with a nutrient and calcium formula known as ‘Predator Powder’. These chickens were then thrown over the fence into the enclosure and each lion would grab what it could. The volunteers were told never to get too close or go into the enclosure when the lions were feeding as they would become aggressive.

When the lions reached around nine months to one-and-a-half years old they were then moved into an area known as the ‘Gremlins’. There were around 30 ‘Gremlins’ in one enclosure, and there was more than one enclosure on the reserve – racking up quite a high number of lions in this age group. These enclosures were basic squares of dust, with a watering pool and some trees for shade – a fairly grim sight to look at but the rangers ensured us it was temporary and they would be ‘soon released’.

These lions were trained to partake in ‘lion walks’ in which volunteers and paying customers are given waist-height wooden sticks to use as ‘warnings’ against the animals, should they get too close. We were told never to bend down below waist height, as the lions could pounce on us – but this seemed to be the only safety precaution. Throughout the walk we stopped at various trees and areas where we could pose for photographs. The lions were coerced back and forth with bits of chicken, in order to get a good shot and look at the camera. The rangers also used chicken and the sticks to get the lions to climb up into the trees for the best photo opportunity. We were told this was natural behaviour.


When the lions have grown past the ‘lion walk’ stage and reached adulthood – at around three years old –  the volunteers lose track of them. We are told they are released into the wild, which is laughable, come to think of it. These animals are so used to human contact, as it is all they have known, and would never survive in what should be their natural environment. The harsh reality is that these animals will be sold – perhaps to zoos, private owners, or canned hunting middle men.

Looking back now, I feel the most anger towards the owners of the lodge. There was a meeting called between all of the volunteers and staff in our first couple of days, during which the owner told us how they had bought the reserve years ago and were breeding lions, and ‘much to their surprise and disgust’ were receiving requests regarding hunting of their lions. They then told us how unbeknown to them they had bought into the canned hunting business, at which time they cut off all ties and turned the lodge into ‘Ukutula’ – meaning ‘place of quiet’, a peaceful place to promote breeding and conservation. The apparent ‘research’ being carried out on the reserve was not explained fully to the volunteers, but the general idea was conveyed that Ukutula was attempting to increase the number of white lions by breeding them on site in a protected environment – away from poachers – and releasing them into the wild when old enough.


It was not until maybe a year after I returned home, when a friend who had been in my group shared a post, that everything changed and I discovered the truth. I was utterly distraught. It had not only all been a sham, but I had been part of something that I had wanted to explicitly prevent – the hunting and unethical treatment of these beautiful creatures. I immediately wrote furious emails to Real Gap, Ukutula, and anyone who would listen, but I got very little response. I kept sending more and more messages to Real Gap, and a few months later, received another message from a friend saying the trip had been removed from the website.

Reading this, it may seem I was incredibly naïve, but at the time these places offered incredibly convincing cover stories. I feel sick to my stomach at the thought of it, but can only use this negative experience in a positive way. Making people aware of these issues is so important, and I make it my goal to do everything I can to ensure that this does not happen to any more volunteers looking to help.

Malena Persson, from Campaign Against Canned Hunting UK, concludes: “When I read about Lucy’s experiences, the full scale of the canned hunting operations hit me – these poor individuals are being harshly duped into repressing what little suspicions they have. They get entirely caught up in the long string of lies, which they are being fed over and over. Ugly lies are hidden behind cuteness, as lion cubs are dangled in front of the volunteers to take their eyes, and mind, off their gut feeling that something is very, very wrong. Lion farms are clever, they bring up the horrors of canned hunting before anyone even asks about it, assuring their volunteers that they are indeed the good guys, and that they never would have anything to do with that kind of appalling cruelty. Lion breeding facilities abuse the trust of genuinely goodhearted young people. Many volunteers go to South Africa because they want to help, they want to save lions. But instead they end up supporting one of the biggest frauds of our time. And it is about time that everyone sees captive breeding of lions for what it is – it is the first step in the canned hunting chain, it is deception with a deadly end.”

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  • Green Lantern

    should be read by everyone interested in animal welfare – this is a scammy and corrupt situation in Africa.

  • Christopher

    My girlfriend and I visited the place a few weeks back. I find this account hard to believe, although respectfully what is conveyed to visitors may be different. From our experience, we were shown that the facility was used for scientific purposes. We were told that a large percentage of the lions in the Kruger suffered from disease and that they were working on antibodies for future lions. They were also building an animal hospital, in conjunction with Germany, which would allow them to treat the animals quicker. At no point did we see any sinister motives and from our take it was for rehabilitation and scientific research purposes. Again, we were visitors and maybe the volunteers have a different insight. In my honest opinion, this sounds a bit far fetched.

    • Gail Potgieter

      I am afraid they sold you more lies. They need to make up convincing stories about why their lions are there to both visitors and volunteers. All respected conservation biologists agree that lion breeding in captivity serves no conservation purpose whatsoever. Captive bred lions can never be released into the wild, so even if they were breeding genetically “stronger” lions, those genes could never be sent back into wild areas. There is only one possible destination for adult lions that ‘disappear’ from places like Ukutula, and that is a canned hunting farm.

      • Christopher

        You raise a valid point, Thank you for the input. I’m not one that’s easily conned but perhaps you’re right.

        • Chris Voets

          Sadly yes, Christopher, you were conned. Ukutula are well known to those of us involved in trying to stop canned hunting as one of the worst. For more information on who the good and bad guys are, there is a Facebook page called “Volunteers in Africa Beware”, and the Campaign against Canned Hunting has an excellent website at

      • John M. Uscian

        Gail, you aren’t by any chance related to Elbie Potgieter, a very good guide with (perhaps formerly now) G Adventures in South Africa. She was tops when she was our guide on a southern Africa safari back in 2008. I hope that others like her are still guiding and introducing folks to the amazing wildlife of southern Africa.

        • Gail Potgieter

          Nope, we are not related! There are many Potgieters around 🙂

          • John M. Uscian

            Didn’t know there were so many Potgieters as it was an entirely new name to me in 2008.

    • Kristin

      This is by far a way more unbelievable story.

      • Christopher

        Thanks Kristin for your valuable input filled with facts and first hand accounts.

    • Karen Pottruff

      Must sift thru the dirt to arrive at truth. You could be right.

      • Christopher

        Indeed Karen. Well suppose there’s 3 sides to every story!

    • Babette Lewis

      You were well duped, and I’m surprised you still don’t know that! UGH

      • Chris Voets

        But now that he DOES know, he’ll be able to read more about it and help spread awareness, Babette. That’s what it’s all about – talk about it to as many people as we can and spread awareness that way.

    • JFC

      Didn’t you ask why so many “orphans” were there? Why they were being handled by visitors for photos? Where they would end up? You were duped like the volunteers who keep these places going.

      • Chris Voets

        These places are very good at convincing you of their lies. They’ve done it for many years.

    • Malena Persson

      Hi Christopher. My name is Malena and I am a rep for CACH in the UK ( Last year we had a good look at Ukutulas website and properly went through all the links they had posted under their research tab. We found that most were smoke and mirrors. ‘Essential research’ turned out to be a letter from a PHD student confirming she was going to do research there, not actually any results from undertaken research. Places like Ukutula will feed visitors whatever they need to hear not to look beyond the cute experience of petting cubs. What we always ask people is to seriously think about where all the lions go? Ukutula has ‘performed research’ for years. Always a steady stream of cubs for volunteers so raise and tourists to pet, week after week, month after month, year after year. Where do they end up? Where are all the lions now?

  • Jon

    I’ve worked in animal conservation fairly extensively, both in South Africa – where I managed the SANCCOB rescue station in Cape Town – and in Zimbabwe. I’ve also had occasion to work with other organisations such as the SPCA, AACL, and the Bird Rescue Institute of the USA, and with vets from places afar afield as Japan, Europe and the US. I can tell you for a fact that these stories are nothing new, and that many (not all) charities, conservation reserves, animal welfare organisations and commercial animal exploitation businesses are usually run poorly, with the animals taking a back seat to the public image, the insider politicking, and profits. In fact it’s routine for animals to be badly treated, kept in unhygienic enclosures that are far too small, badly neglected and even physically abused by the staff behind the scenes. For all mankind’s posturing and pretence at caring, we’re at bottom a toxic species and the average human being knows nothing about the plight of animals and cares far less.

    • R75b

      Could you please please give me safe genuine and good references of places concerned about wildlife conservation ,to volunteer abroad as a veterinary student ?

      • Jon

        You don’t say where you’re based, but I can tell you that organisations like SANCCOB based in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth could definitely use a vet. I wouldn’t recommend the SPCA unless you particularly want to spend a lot of your time putting down healthy animals. Also the World of Birds seem to have their heads screwed on straight, but I think they have an in-house vet. There’s also the PDSA, AACL and CLAWS who are doing good work.

        In Zimbabwe it’s a different story. The country’s such a mess that it’s difficult to say with certainty what organisations are still running properly and I haven’t been back there in many years. I’ve made some enquiries and I’ll let you know what response I get.

      • Jon

        Hi R75b, I’ve done some investigation and got some recommendations from people in Zimbabwe. They say the SPCA there does good work, as does an organisation called Friend Foundation, which I’ve never heard of. Twala Wildlife just outside Harare came back with this information:
        Vets have to be registered with the Zimbabwe Veterinary Council in order to work in Zimbabwe. This is not an easy process, which I am sure will not surprise you! Twala, and many other organisations will take on volunteer
        vets to help with surgery prep and general animal care but not as actual vets.
        I’ve tried to post this reply three times with Tracy’s email address included, but Discus just seems to keep swallowing it. I do know that Twala Trust has a Zimbabwean website, and I’m sure you can contact Tracy through that if you look it up on Google.
        it seems you could do voluntary work with animals in Zimbabwe without a problem,
        but to actually practice as a vet there is going to take some time and
        patience to organise.
        All the best with it.

      • Jon

        Another source tells me that the Zimbabwean SPCA (ZNSPCA I think they’re called) are doing good work especially in the townships and they desperately need good help. And also it was suggested that you could try call Mel Hood from VAWS (Vets for Animal Welfare) on +263 778 431528. She’s in Harare. Good luck with it.

  • Babette Lewis

    I hope this gets spread around and around, posted on billboards in Africa and sold on TV! Stop this cruel and selfish manipulation of wildlife!

  • Well canned hunting makes sure the animals survive in the long term, if there was no supply of lions bred in captivity, the hunters would just shoot the wild ones, endangering the specie even further.

    Obviously in an ideal world nobody would feel the need to shoot such a magnificent creature for fun, but in reality, cutting off the supply of lions for canned hunting, would mean wild stocks dwindling even further.

    Hunters would bribe park rangers to shoot in protected areas, bribe their way out of trouble, Africa is poor and corrupt.

    • Gail Potgieter

      You assume that canned hunting and wild hunting are one and the same. Recent research on the hunting markets reveals that they are not. A trophy hunter that wants to come and ‘experience the bush’ and hunt in remote places would not go on a canned hunt (very few of them even hunt in South Africa – not ‘wild’ enough). A hunter that just wants a lion on his wall would go on a canned hunt. If canned hunting was banned, then South Africa’s quota for lion trophy exports would be dramatically reduced. You would still get proper hunters coming in to take the same portion of wild lions that they are already taking. Banning canned hunting would simply get rid of “hunters” that just want a trophy on their wall – this is a good thing.

      • Chris Voets

        And the canned hunting people DO still get lions from the wild to top up their breeding stock, Kenny. They lure them across brittle parks boundaries (similar to how the famous Cecil was lured out of Hwange) and capture them in order to get new genes for their over-bred populations.

  • sandina37

    While there are many places like this all around the world there are also many places that are reputable and truly have the welfare of the animals as a top priority. It is very important to thoroughly research the place you want to go. Just doing a Google search of this place brought up a lot of negative things about the supposed sanctuary. I volunteered at the Living with Wild Cats program at Glen Afric volunteer experience and found the program to be wonderful. All of the animals had plenty of space in their enclosures and they were kept clean on a regular basis by the volunteers. I never saw any type of mistreatment. The key is to do your research to ensure that the place you are going abides by ethical practices and if you get messaged by someone saying that this place is a scam you should take that as a big red flag!

    • Gail Potgieter

      Another red flag is if an organisation has captive animals at all. Not all organisations with captive animals are bad, but most of them are. A critical part of research before you go and while you are there is to ask: “what exactly happens to these animals in the long term?” and “why were they brought into captivity in the first place?”.

      If they are vague about their long-term plans, or you can see for yourself that there are no old animals in the facility (i.e. they’re “disappearing” when they get to a certain age) – then it’s probably a canned hunting supply farm. If the reasons for the animals being in captivity are to do with “genetics”, when the species concerned does not actually have a genetic problem (e.g. lions), then it is probably involved in canned hunting.

      For large carnivores, no captive-bred animals should ever be released into the wild, so any story about releasing them “into the wild” is either a lie or a very bad idea. One exception is the release of wild-caught animals – this is possible, but difficult. If the reason that animals were brought in to captivity is because they were wild orphans (i.e. their mother was shot), then this is valid. Most wild orphans cannot be cuddled, unless they came in at a very young age (< one month, which is quite rare). Consequently, if the organisation claims that their lions/leopards/cheetahs are all wild orphans, yet all of them are very tame, the story is unlikely to be true.

      Finally, any sort of breeding in captivity should send up a red flag – "why are you breeding them?" is a critical question to ask. For southern Africa's large carnivores, captive breeding is not a valid conservation tool, due to the problems I mentioned earlier about releasing them into the wild. Only accredited zoos that are breeding these animals specifically for education purposes have a valid reason for breeding them. Good zoos will not breed hundreds of cubs (as canned hunting places do), as they would only want to maintain their captive population at a small number.

    • Carmen Berdan

      They used “rented” cubs for petting in the past. They purchased lion cubs and used them for petting. Not All the lions are still at GlenAfric. They train the animals for performing circus like acts in movies and documentaries. I’ve seen a video of two tiger cubs being abused by a “volunteer”. You didn’t do a good research Sandina after all…. Lots of volunteers at Ukutula have “wonderful experiences” as they just see what they want to see.

      • Sandina37

        When I was at Glen Afric they are not open to the public for tourists to come in and interact with the animals. The only people allowed to even pet the cubs that were there are the volunteers and workers. Therefore they are not using the cubs that are there as a tourist attraction like many of the unethical places. They also do not guarantee that there will be a cub there when you book your trip. Also they do use some of their animals in movies but it is in no way a circus act. They also live in proper enclosures and are not kept in cages as they do with circus animals.

        • Carmen Berdan

          Yes, a few steps above a real circus. Not Conservation activities, but lots of fun for paying volunteers. BTW, are you aware that the owner/managing director John Brooker was connected to canned hunting in the past?

          • hoodee

            I had a bad “volunteering” experience in Glen Afrik too, but I did it through a Save-organization and the place was advertized as a Wild Life Sanctuary in early 2013. I didn’nt know anything about The Glen Afrik lodge before I went there and a little by little realized the truth. I didn’t also do any research before I left. I got the trip from a travel agency KIlroy and I was supposed to be there six weeks, but I left earlier and tried to get my money back, because the volunteering wasn’t made for the animals and for their well-being but earning money and attracting tourists. The image of the place that I got before I left for the volunteering project was completely different than the actual reality in the place. Glen Afrik uses animals for different purposes like filming and shooting photos, for example the series Wild at heart is filmed there, a fact that they keep repeating all the time. Animals are trained for human handling. Tourists are getting several attractions in Glen Afrik like elephant walking et cetera, but the main idea behind all this is getting money for profit and business. During my “volunteering” one animal was left suffering with a wire in it’s leg because they couldn’t caught the animal. Also elephants didn’t have a possibility to drink when they were kept inside. Don’t ever go volunteering in Glen Afrik. If I had known the truth I would have never gone there.

  • John M. Uscian

    In July of 2014, I volunteered for Wildlife ACT (please look this up on-line and rigorously scrutinize it for legitimacy), a conservation group in South Africa that does real research at a number of divergent parks and game reserves throughout Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. Highly recommend this experience to those wanting to do some real research and see lots of African wildlife. Your research will add to a giant pool of data that has been collected during the past 8 years or so and it focuses on numbers, movements, and habits of the following: African Wild Dogs, Lions, Elephants, and Leopards. Be advised thta your research contribution will most likely NOT result in your name being on a ground-breaking new discovery about wildlife. Yet your contributions will add to the big picture of conserving many wild animals in southern Africa.

    • Gail Potgieter

      Yes, Wildlife ACT is an example of a good organisation doing real conservation work. It does not involve cuddling animals, so they don’t get the same number of volunteers through as the cuddle-a-cub establishments do. But this just shows that what they are doing is about conservation of wildlife, not making money.

      • John M. Uscian

        Thanks for affirming my favorable view of Wildlife ACT, Gail. After having voluteered with Widllife ACT for 4 weeks in 2014, I had suggested it to three of my students (I’m a university biology professor). They went and loved it.

  • Laura O’Hara

    Most, if not all, wildlife should be viewed with respect and from a distance. This should be a first clue that something is wrong. In the case of mammals (lions, elephants, rhino, for example) the young stay with the mother for quite a while (years in some cases) until they are weaned and taught the knowledge they need to go it alone. This article represents a sad but too often true scam.

  • Rosanne

    I volunteered at Antelope Park in Zimbabwe-although they said they did not breed lions for canned hunting-they did breed for walking with the cubs for tourists, while I was there I thought it was great but felt also something was not right. They said they were waiting to buy a piece of land to release them as adults-that was around seven years ago. I fell now disgusted that I was a part of this. They fall under ALERT a”conservation ” reserve. They also have one in Vic falls. Beautiful places disguised as lion prisons.

    • Ilse Mwanza

      AND one in Livingstone, Zambia. Same scam going on there.

      • Chris Voets

        Correct, all scams. They will of course tell you that they are working on putting those lions back into the wild. But they haven’t succeeded on that.

  • Adrian Green

    If people would just do a bit of research before mindlessly “helping animals”. The problem would almost immediately vanish. It’s ignorance like this thats fueling the trade, despite whether you avenged your conscience through a blog or not.

  • Valerie Lusaka

    I totally for it by visiting Antelope Park in Zimbabwe. How can we reintroduce lions rub all day tourists!

    • Chris Voets

      These lions will never be reintroduced into the wild, Valerie. Although Antelope Park claims to be doing so, they have never succeeded. It’s a con.

  • Audrey_Nickel

    It didn’t occur to her that the presence of tigers in an African preserve was rather odd?

  • Royal Lucksack

    Does anybody know more about the logistics of this; Are they doing this to break even or are they just trying to maximise monetary gains? If they are working on enhancing medical treatment for large cats etc. and gaining new valuable information on the species and are doing this to break even then the crime in my eyes is slightly lessened as it is still helping the lions out in a more long term way rather than just dropping them after their cute phase. It isn’t ideal but I just hope that it is the lesser of two evils.

  • ThatsMRdouchbag

    Donald Trump’s sons live canned hunts.

  • Ilse Mwanza

    What’s been forgotten is that, in addition to being sold into canned hunts, these lions are also sold in the lion-bone trade, mostly going to China (as they’re running short of tiger bones for ‘traditional’ medicine) but also Indonesia.

  • Jhm0699

    Everyone – please post this article on Facebook. We must spread the word.

  • Chris Voets

    It’s great to see that more and more ex-volunteers are coming forward with their experiences like this one. It must be so heartbreaking to have experienced this, and in fact quite embarrassing to admit that you’ve been duped and have fallen for such a scam. I really admire their honesty.
    Slowly but surely, we are winning the fight against canned hunting. After many years of fighting for awareness by people like Chris Mercer and the late Bev Pervan of The Campaign against Canned Hunting (, Gareth Patterson, Kevin Richardson, and many others, there is more awareness worldwide of what is happening. The death of Cecil the lion who was gunned down last year in Hwange, and the release of the documentary Blood Lions in July 2015 have created worldwide outrage. The annual Global March for Lions, which started in 2014, involves over 60 cities worldwide.
    The latest news is that, from 1 June 2016, volunteers are no longer permitted to interact with animals during their assignments. This has been long-time coming, and will surely filter out those volunteers who are only after the thrill of playing with the animals and taking selfies with them, rather than those that are after the genuine experience of wanting to do good during their “voluntours” and help wildlife and the ecology and environment. Those are the volunteers we need.
    With only around 20,000 wild lions left in all of Africa, we cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal now. Yes we have achieved success. But we have to keep spreading awareness until canned hunting (and hopefully trophy hunting) has been made illegal. Ex-volunteer stories like the one above need to be shared far and wide.

    • Daniela Maselli

      Hello Chris, I see this response is 1 year old. – I was born and live in Italy and I had been an animal lover – more specifically a cat lover – since I was little. So when Southern Africa was assigned to me in the ceramic tile business, I felt very happy and it seemed only logical to sign up for an animal-focused volunteering trip.
      Having been to South Africa a couple of times (not parks or reserves) I left my hear there and I’d love to try an experience at close distance with the big cats.
      I do not know whether it’s because I am middle age, or just careful and a deep animal lover, but I am doing the research now and even before going I am discovering (thanks to you all in this forum) what I suspected all along… that these places (except a few that I do not know but must exist) are just a first step to destroy these beautiful animals and sign their destiny to end up in a canned-hunting farm.
      I am not going. Or at least not to any of these.
      As much as I’d die to hug a lion cub or hug an adult one, having a natural bond with animals, I would never ever put their life in danger taking away from them what their natural instinct has to be.
      Thank you thank you thank you. I am very sad to hear there’s so much corruption and I truly believed until now, there could be associations willing to really help these beauties, but man is definitely the most atrocious beast of all.
      whatever we reach, we destroy.
      I looked up at going to kevin Richardson, but the queue to volunteer at his sanctuary is long and extremely expensive and the expectations to work closer to him or take a super risky walk with lions at a distance is practically down to zero.
      I noted WILDLIFE ACT, but before that, are you aware of any other similar , serious and correct and fair that I could trust ? I am indipendent, can travel and join farms or rangers around. thanks for your attention and hope you can get back to me. kind regards
      Daniela Maselli

  • Mark Jones

    Thanks for sharing, opens the eyes of would be volunteers.
    White lion conservation however, is a juxtaposition. White lions are not conservation, just a recessive gene that we try to have occur more often. How? By inbreeding.

  • suzy klitgaard

    As long as people pay for hunts, breeding farms will supply them. People need to educate themselves. Then educate others.


    The BIG THREE to live by. I have been a volunteer to North American wildlife for 6 years……was worth every second. My director was and still is a true leader in animal welfare “)

  • Laura MacGregor

    Thank you for this article. My daughter’s school grade camp was at Ukutula earlier this year. Fifty children with a few teachers went for a two-night “conservation” experience. I had doubts as soon as I heard there would be lion cub petting but I dismissed my thoughts as this would be educational for the children. Mind you, these children were from a South African school so the deception is not limited to foreign tourism. I forwarded this article on to the school for further investigation. I will be looking at the website for further information.

  • Laura MacGregor

    Thank you for this article. My daughter’s school grade camp was at Ukutula earlier this year. Fifty children with a few teachers went for a two-night “conservation” experience. I had doubts as soon as I heard there would be lion cub petting but I dismissed my thoughts as this would be educational for the children. Mind you, these children were from a South African school so the deception is not limited to foreign tourism. I forwarded this article on to the school for further investigation. I will be looking at the website for further information.

  • Angela Marie Restrepo

    What about Volunteer Southern Africa? I am going to volunteer there in october but after reading this I feel like I cannot trust any of these organizations.

  • kelli

    I am interested in signing up for “living with big cats” through They say they never release any of the animals back into the wild or breed. Does anyone has any information on this program? Thanks!!

  • Joe

    So people said it was bad, you thought it was “trolling” and your solution instead of a simple google search about the subject was to ask the company you were paying about it? It sounds like you had more interest in petting the cats than in being a cat lover.

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