From the very beginning, I was completely besotted by the cubs and in awe of the adult lions. But it wasn't long before the penny dropped.
Like many so-called conservation lodges, Ukutula breeds lion cubs excessively, and during my stay we were told we had to care for the 2-week-old cubs we handled because they were too "unruly" to stay with their mothers. At the time, the statement seemed convincing, but I have since realised it is utter nonsense. To say a lion cub is too "unruly" is like saying a cheetah "runs too much" - it's in their nature.
This natural behaviour was the first thing we were taught to control. If a cub became too excitable or aggressive we had to smack them across the nose so they would learn it was unacceptable.
The second warning sign came during my first evening when I had to lock five cubs, weighing up to 20 pounds each, in a single crate no bigger than one you'd keep your dog in. They were stuck there from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. the next morning, with no access to food or water, simply because they had outgrown their enclosures.