On February 1st 2015 I left the UK for South Africa without knowing that the following two weeks would change my life. It’s been the busiest, most eventful year ever.
Firstly I think it’s important to address a video that was brought to my attention by numerous campaigners. Entitled “The life of an Ukutula volunteer” I was shocked to note that the two girls in the video felt it necessary to mention my trip, the campaign and my website. No doubt the owners of Ukutula prompted them to do so but needless to say the lies are too much to ignore. You can watch the video here. I actually remember the girl in the video and for the entire week we were on the park together, she pissed me off beyond words. Never in my life had I met such a naive young girl and my point has only been proven by the fact she returned to Ukutula despite the evidence stacked up against the park.
She states “There are a lot of people paying to come here just to write negative reports. Last time I was here there were two girls that acted really friendly and it seemed like they had a really good time and when they got home that made this blog about how bad they had it and stuff. I feel like that is so wrong because they should have talked to the owners here instead of just going home and writing about it.”
Firstly I wish to point out that the fact these girls were given an opportunity to defend the park but failed to actually do so. They have not presented any evidence to suggest that the cub petting and lion walking benefit conservation or even that the lions are released into sanctuaries therefore I find it exhausting to deal with such rubbish.
My response to this is as follows (please tell me how I can make this any clearer): At absolutely no point prior to my trip did I have a preconceived notion of Ukutula’s involvement with the hunting industry. I did my research and was convinced by Real Gap that Ukutula was a true conservation park and I was excited beyond words. I spent a year paying for the trip and when the day came to leave I was crying with excitement, yet they were the worst two weeks of my life. I became involved in a disgusting industry that uses lions merely for profit and had been fooled into giving such awful people thousands of pounds, much like the girls in this video. I am more than willing to share Facebook conversations, text messages and Tweets that were sent prior to my trip that will prove just how excited I was to be “helping” these lions and I can even share the messages that were sent during my trip that show just how upset I was to discover that Ukutula is just another lion farm. I asked questions as much as I could but received convincing answers every single time. During my stay I was sending photographic evidence to other lion charities and deleting the messages as we had been told the owners will search our phones, so forgive me for not shouting it from the rooftops. I started Claws Out upon my return to the UK as the guilt was too much to bear and I figured if I could show just one person the truth, I had succeeded. Both the cub petting and canned hunting industries are abysmal and the thought of being involved with them makes me sick to my stomach, so that is actually why I “just came home and wrote about it.”
Moving onto a more positive note, I was thrilled to see that in fact the cowards that own Ukutula are selling the park. This came as a shock to us all as they’ve been so hot to defend their beloved park but just like rats abandoning a sinking ship (a vastly overpriced one at that) it seems too much for Willi Jacobs to handle.
Further to this, during my year long campaign Real Gap have now discontinued their cub petting trips to Ukutula. Although we don’t expect them to put their hands up and tell us we were right, I highly doubt that the trip being “fully booked” is their reasoning for pulling the trip as they had stated. I still have an ongoing complaint with Real Gap, and involving ABTA and ATOL, that I hope will reach a resolution soon.
The rest of my year was packed full, including my Claws Out for CACH fundraiser that I held in London to raise money for the Campaign Against Canned Hunting and their new sanctuary, the Karoo Wildlife Centre and even a trip to European Parliament. At the age of 21 I joined a panel of MEPs, campaigners and the team behind Blood Lions to share my story and ensure legislation is changed to protect the remaining lions in Africa; which so far has resulted in France banning the import of lion trophies and other European countries currently holding talks to follow suit. This is something I never thought I would have the chance to do and had it not been for my experience at Ukutula, I would not have stepped up to join the campaign.
My campaigning with Claws Out also led to a personal change in my career; I now work for Dogs Trust in the Head Office in London. Making such a big move from a career as a Legal Assistant into the Charity Sector was terrifying but without a doubt the best decision I have ever made. I am so proud to say I work for such an amazing charity helping dogs across the UK and also spend my spare time working with Born Free, P.A.L and other great people to help lions in Africa. Again, this would not have happened was it not for my awful trip to Ukutula.
I have met some incredible people over the past year that are fighting for the same cause and it really is amazing to see everyone work together for the good of animals. I would not have got so far into this campaign had it not been for the help I received from Paul Tully and Drew Abrahamson (Captured in Africa), Steve Travis (P.A.L), Christine and Pieter (LionAid), Chris and Beverley (CACH) and the previous Ukutula volunteers, Nathan and Keeton.
I have no idea what the next year is going to hold but I can’t wait to see. I have already begun work on a children’s book with the aim to educate the next generation on the plight that lions face and will be organising another fundraiser in London to raise some extra money for the Campaign Against Canned Hunting.
So, to the girls in the video who are convinced I had planned this from the start and set out to have a negative experience, I can only hope you open your eyes before giving Willi Jacobs anymore of your money and stop believing the sad little lies he tells. They are featured in Blood Lions and the word is spreading, whether you like it or not.