A lot of people picture ‘volunteering’ as grubby, basic, manual labour in poor conditions and I mean that might be your cup of tea you never know. But if it’s not, if you’re willing to spend a bit of extra money, you could end up somewhere like I did, somewhere like Ukutula. Okay so you’re still not convinced, let me continue.
How to know if Ukutula is the place for you:
- Lions are your spirit animal, or even just your favourite animal, or both, like me.
- You like the occasional drink, don’t disagree with a few hardcore games of ring of fire seven nights a week. (South African RoF of course, someone remind me to elaborate.)
- Baking in the sun is your thing; you approve the nickname ‘sun kissed goddess.’
- Hard work includes spending your mornings cuddling baby lions and your afternoons by the pool with an ice cream.
- You’re willing to peel smelly dead chickens from the inside of a freezer and listen to the sounds of their bones snapping as you peel their frozen bodies apart.
That last one might put you off, it was a little gross, I admit, but hey a new experience! Ukutula was literally the most amazing place, I had the greatest time volunteering there I would recommend it to anyone who wants light volunteering and a whole new range of experiences. You sleep in gorgeous huts with their own en suite and are woken every morning by the roars of lions. I can’t even describe how surreal that is. A rota is produced each week assigning you duties, the three types of volunteering are cubs, cheetahs and rangers.
Cub duty involves spending time with baby lions and hyenas. Whilst on lion duty you must first stimulate the lion (make him poo- gross, I know), then give him a wash, prepare bottles and feed him. This sounds quite cute and enjoyable which, don’t get me wrong, it is. But you will get torn apart by their tiny little nails. Oh well, who cares they are so darn cute and you would be surprised how strong a relationship you build with them. It really is hard to say goodbye, mine and Aslan’s level of friendship meant I could have a hangover nap whilst cuddling him. That’s right, sleeping whilst cuddling a baby lion, if that’s not friendship goals I don’t know what is. Hyena duty isn’t all that dissimilar apart from the main goal is to make sure they don’t kill each other, which trust me, they would. Hyenas are absolutely crazy and have the strongest jaws which means their bites hurt inexplicably. Good luck trying to peel them off eachother.
Cheetah duty is such an experience, a Scottish cheetah expert named Alan works at Ukutula and he lets you get so up and personal with these scary animals. We got the play with the baby cheetahs and then feed the older ones by throwing chickens a few steps away from your feet for them to retrieve. They’re really noble animals and it was nice to learn so much about them.
Rangers is the most hard work and yet probably the most laughs. The work really varies depending on what needs doing that day. A few of the jobs include collecting chickens for the cheetahs to eat, collecting eggs for breakfast, cutting up dead cows/horses for the older cats, collecting cabbages for the giraffes and ostriches that live on the reserve and cleaning out enclosures. Setting out in an open back car, you’re guaranteed to get mucky, whether it’s being driven through sprinklers or dead chicken guts, you’re gonna need a shower.
It sounds like a lot of work but you get soooo much chill time. You’re only assigned half a day of work so you can spend you’re free time sleeping, chilling by the pool/ wifi area, helping the rangers or game drives around the reserve. There is also a great little bar where we spent many nights laughing, playing competitive card games and making friends from all over the world.
It really was an amazing experience and the fun didn’t stop there. We also got to take part in lion walks and external trips to monkey and elephant sanctuaries. I would seriously recommend this place to anyone who wants to experience South Africa and volunteering without living it rough.