Ukutula, about an hour's drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria, offers an exciting opportunity to play with lion cubs and interact with fully grown lions. Many of the cats here have a recessive gene that sometimes results in white lions. They are the subject of an ongoing veterinary and scientific study.

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Ukutula also has antelope, giraffe and zebra, as well as more than 130 bird species.

There is nothing quite as mesmerising as looking into a lion’s eyes. And nothing as memorably cute as a playful lion cub.

Conveniently close to Johannesburg and Pretoria, Ukutula Lion Park and Lodge offers the opportunity to do both.

A visitor may even be lucky enough to find white lion cubs. White lions were first noticed in the Timbavati area close to the Kruger National Park in 1975, and have been a source of fascination ever since – in large part because they are not albinos and because they don’t seem particularly compromised by being noticeably paler than their tawnier counterparts.

Lion cubs may be sweet, cute and kitten-like, but even from an early age they develop a boldness and that endearing swagger that is so characteristic of adult lions.

At Ukutula a visitor is able to hold and bottle-feed young cubs – if there are any recently born babies. Visitors can also walk in the bushveld with lions (between the ages of nine and 18 months).

Once adults, lions' wild instincts become re-established. Their boisterous behaviour, outsized claws and growing teeth make them too rough to play with. At Ukutula, these lions are then put into large camps – very large enclosures – and will one day hopefully be released into game reserves.

Ukutula also welcomes volunteers, who stay in-house and get to interact with cubs and care for them on an ongoing basis. These visitors also learn how to help care for the adult lions.

Ukutula hosts day visitors, but also has accommodation for anyone wanting to stay overnight.

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